Study concerns town of Johnstown fire depts.

Johnstown officials seeking grant to study methodology

JOHNSTOWN — A joint meeting between the Johnstown Town Board and the four fire departments within the town’s fire district was held on Wednesday to discuss a study the town is applying for funds to get that would focus on the fire departments.

The four departments involved include, Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Department, Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department, Meco Volunteer Fire Department and Sammonsville Volunteer Fire Department. Berkshire Fire District would also be included in the study even though it is not included in the town’s fire district.

Town Supervisor Jack Wilson brought the fire departments up-to-date on where the town stands with the study.

“We are applying for a firefighter efficiency grant and what that will do is get us some money to do a study to see where there are opportunities to save taxpayer dollars,” Wilson said.

He said the town first had to submit a form to the state in order to be accepted into the program prior to filing for the grant. Their form was accepted by the state, and the grant is now being worked on.

If the town is approved for the grant, a study would be conducted on the fire departments and how the town could save money. Once the study is complete, the town plans to present it to the fire departments.

“An outsider who has experience in looking at these things comes back and tells us what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right,” Wilson said. “They will be looking at everything. They will be looking at finances, they will be looking at equipment, they will be looking at training, they will be looking at the dollars, the buildings. Those are all factors they will look at.”

He said there are no intentions to dissolve or consolidate any of the departments. He said it is strictly a study.

Fire department officials said their biggest concern has been the lack of communication between the board and the fire departments.

Brandon Rowback, member of Pleasant Square, said he had no knowledge of the grant, nor the study and that no one else from any of the other fire departments knew about it either.

Wilson, who is also a member of Pleasant Square, said he has had discussions about the study with other members.

Rowback agreed the fire department members had been discussing the study once they were made aware of it, but said that other departments were not informed of the study which is why he approached the board to have the combined meeting.

Fire district members also questioned how possibly consolidating could save the taxpayers money.

“The big thing, in my eyes, is we have this 2 percent tax cap and municipalities can’t live with that,” Wilson said.

He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo made that tax cap permanent, but municipalities are currently able to override it.

“The four fire protection fire companies that I have, anytime you guys get an increase in your budget, that’s on my two percent. If you guys were a fire district, then it’s on your two percent and not on mine. I can then use the two percent to benefit the taxpayers and you can use the two percent to benefit the firemen,” Wilson said.

“The other problem I have with the town going forward with this grant is why are we trying to fix something that is not broken?” said Pleasant Square Fire Chief Anthony Mendetta.

Wilson explained it is just a study and that there is no alternative motive.

Rowback also questioned whether the whole town board agrees with conducting the study.

Councilman Walt Lane said he was on board with having the study conducted and explained why.

“We’re going to get a grant for somebody who supposedly knows how all fire companies should work and they’ve done this before for a number of other counties, towns and villages all across the state,” Lane said. “What I’m hoping is, no matter what the final decision is, every one of the four companies will find something that they can think about and talk about among themselves and put it to use because it’s something they hadn’t thought about before. That’s got to have some value.”

Councilman Tim Rizzo said he was the only one who voted no for the grant because he doesn’t know what the study involves or what the intentions are, and still is unsure of what is going on.

Councilman Don VanDeusen said he is also unaware of some aspects to the study.

“I’m interested in seeing what comes back to us,” VanDeusen said. “I’m also very interested in taking the temperature of everybody in this room to see how you guys feel about it.”

Both the town board and the fire departments agreed to have better communication moving forward.

Wilson said he will inform the fire departments as the process for the grant and the study continues.