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The Dansville Online
  • Wayland split in 2 fire districts

  • Unless opponents can collect enough signatures for a permissive referendum, two new fire districts in Wayland will begin operation in mid-October.

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  • Unless opponents can collect enough signatures for a permissive referendum, two new fire districts in Wayland will begin operation in mid-October.
    Wayland town and village officials voted Tuesday night following a public hearing to create a joint fire district that will include properties north of state Route 63 as well as east of state Route 21 and north of Emo Road. Of the ten elected officials on the two boards there was a single nay vote from village Mayor Brian McCoy.
    The town board immediately followed that vote with the passage of a resolution to create a second fire district that includes the remaining areas of the town to the south, including Perkinville and Loon Lake.
    “It’s wrong and I am against the proposed fire district as it is written and drawn-up now,” McCoy said during the public comment period before the vote. He said the Perkinsville Fire Department is not adequately equipped nor staffed to take on responsibility for the southern fire district.
    However, despite the mayor’s statements and a pair of letters on village letterhead he circulated in the weeks before the vote, all four of the village’s trustees voted the other way.
    “I don’t agree with Brian’s comments,” Trustee Michael Parks said. “I’m in favor of the district.”
    Trustee Renee Fleishman said she would have preferred a single fire district — a proposal that was previously on the table, but was shot down because of opposition from the Perkinsville Fire Department.
    “The best thing for the fire departments is to be one district,” she said, before explaining that her vote in favor was out of deference to Wayland Fire Chief Michael Cotter’s support for the two districts.
    Public opinion too was mixed.
    Recounting the history of the two departments, Carol Nowak said, “Both companies came together and did their job.”
    She said the debate among elected officials was driven by money and power, not by the wellbeing of the community and fire departments.
    Barb Cowley compared the north-south division to the Mason-Dixon Line that split the U.S. during the Civil War.
    “It seems like we’re splitting everything in half,” she said. “There seems to be so much animosity.”
    That animosity was reflected late in the meeting when some attendees spoke against one fire department or the other, accusing both sides of creating division. Fire officials from both departments distanced themselves from such statements, saying the departments have a positive working relationship.
    “I think it’s time to bury the hatchet,” Cotter said.
    Perkinsville Chief Walt Drum Jr. said he shared Cotter’s opinion, but took exception to comments from the mayor and some audience members that were critical of his department. He said the Perkinsville department has a lot of good men and women.
    Page 2 of 3 - “To say that we’re not is a bunch of baloney,” Drum said.
    Town Councilman Jody Tonkery said the districts were necessary mostly for financial reasons. He made the case that removing the two departments from the town and village will ease the responsibilities of elected officials and open new lines of funding through property taxes.
    The northern fire district that includes the village encompasses an estimates $142 million in assessed property value. The southern portion covers a comparable area, but with a lower assessed property value around $80 million, mostly due to agricultural lands.
    Another element that will impact funding is the creation of an ambulance corporation that will include both fire districts as well as at least one neighboring community.
    That action is unrelated to Tuesday’s decision and is expected to happen in early 2013. Once created, an ambulance district can bill for services through private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. Those funding sources are closed to the fire departments because state law prohibits fire service agencies from billing for medical services.
    Tonkery admitted that the two-district proposal carried with it some problems.
    “It’s not perfect — what is? But this is the best solution we have come up with,” Tonkery said.
    “We know we aren’t pleasing everyone,” town Supervisor George Ott said. “But we are offering something that can make this think work.”
    Tonkery pointed out that both districts struggle to put together enough volunteers — a trend that many rural volunteer fire departments are experiencing as more residents are traveling to larger cities to work.
    “To me, this isn’t about that,” Tonkery explained. He said the most important factor is funding.
    He said the town currently allocates approximately 78 cents per $1,000 in assessed value to fire service, a figure he called “unrealistically low.” Those funds are distributed to the two existing fire departments through service agreements. The village of Wayland also allocates a portion of its budget for the fire department in the village.
    In planning preliminary budgets for the two districts, officials expect slightly higher amounts to be assessed. Tonkery estimated an assessment would be less than $1 per $1,000 and fire officials in the northern fire district clarified that they are looking at something under 90 cents per $1,000.
    Setting a budget and a tax rate will be one of the first actions in either fire district. Unless opponents collect the signatures of 5 percent of voters within a proposed district, commissioners can take office as early as Oct. 16. Town and village officials are expected to make appointments next week.
    However, if enough signatures are collected, the future of the proposed districts will be put to voters in a referendum. Each district stands as a single action and a referendum against one district’s creation will not impact the other.
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