GROVE — The Grove Town Board will begin looking for other options regarding fire coverage in the municipality after expressing discomfort with Canaseraga’s newest fire contract.
Grove is currently covered by two fire departments — the Nunda Fire Department and the Canaseraga Fire Department. Nunda firefighters handle all calls inside the 585 area code while Canaseraga handles the rest.
Town Supervisor Jonathan Gorton told those in attendance during Tuesday’s monthly meeting that he had spoken with Canaseraga Mayor Doug Ames about the significant jump in the town’s proposed payment as part of the contract.
“Doug told me that their expenses have gone up considerably — we know that,” Gorton said. “We know that they have to buy updated fire turnout gear and air packs. He says he wants to put money away for a new ambulance. He says it’s $30,000, that’s what the Village Board voted on and take it or leave it.”
Gorton then contacted the New York State Comptroller’s Office, the New York Association of Towns and Burns Town Supervisor Lauren Oliver, who himself called state representatives.
“They all said the same thing that they can ask whatever they want,” Gorton said. “It’s a negotiation thing. If we don’t want to pay it we have to find some other alternative.”
The supervisor reflected on his time in Genesee Falls where he served as a lifetime member of the town’s fire company, which was eventually disbanded after a state audit revealed improprieties in department resources and funds.
“There were some individuals that got ahold of the fire department and robbed it blind, stole money out of it,” Gorton said. “They’d take the portable pumps home and then when they’d have a fire, they’d rent them back to the fire company and charge them rent on the portable pumps. The fire chief and the assistant fire chief charged ungodly amounts of money to change the oil on the fire trucks. It was unbelievable.”
Town Councilmen Kenny DeRitter and Curt Hofass as well as Highway Superintendent Jesse Griffith asked if the town could potentially enter negotiations with Nunda to cover the entire town.
“For me, as a taxpayer, that jump is too much,” DeRitter said. “That’s a 2.5 percent (increase) just for that. Without even looking at our budget right now, we’re always up between 3 and 5 percent.”
“I can’t believe it’s only a two percent raise because (former Grove Town Supervisor) Mike (Johnsen) used to tell us that always that $3,000 was a one-percent raise so if they’re raising it $12,000 that would be at least a four-percent raise right there,” Griffith added.
Gorton claimed that Canaseraga couldn’t tell him how many fire calls its department responded to in the village but ambulance crews responded to 41 calls in 2015.
Hofass implored Gorton to call Johnsen about the issue while DeRitter claimed that the village’s ambulance chief Jesse Flint could come up with a list of expenditures from last year but “would it do any good?”
“I think it would be ammunition,” Griffith replied. “It might not do any good but then we’ll just say ‘let’s talk to Nunda and let’s see what they offer us’ and say ‘see you later, Canaseraga.’”
“But what happens is Nunda gets a call over in Garwoods,” DeRitter said. “They say ‘we can’t make it in time’ or ‘we’re a little late, mutual aid.’ Now, they can’t deny mutual aid. Canaseraga has to come and cover us anyway if Nunda says it’s in your ballpark. That’s the way it is. The only thing is they won’t get paid for it.”
The Town Board also expressed concerns over fire expenses not being included in the village’s budget.
“We have these calls and respect the volunteers but where is the extra money going?” DeRitter said. “We’re paying $17,800 every year and they’re spending $12,000 of it where’s that other money going? Are we cleaning their sidewalks, plowing their roads?”
A resident at the meeting didn’t agree with the idea of “leaving ourselves at the mercy of everyone else” and the end game should be an individual fire department.
“I just saw a fire truck that was just out of commission go for $2,500 in the state auction,” the citizen said. “It’s ready to roll, it just came out of commission. Sure it’s not going to be the nicest one around but you’ve got to start somewhere and you’ve got to build up to something.”
Gorton reminded those in attendance that it “costs a pretty penny” to run a fire department and having volunteers willing to participate in smaller towns is an even more valuable resource.
Hofass noted that going with Nunda, should the opportunity be there, would be an expansion of services rather than cutting back.
“We aren’t canceling service for the town — in fact, Nunda handles half of our town right now,” Hofass said.
The supervisor said that the first step would be to discuss fire coverage with Nunda and see if the municipality would be willing to take part. Nunda currently charges $950 per fire call and $450 per ambulance call.
At the end of the discussion, it was decided that Grove would talk with Nunda regarding expanded fire coverage.