By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- Effective March 14, the Fonda Volunteer Fire Department will officially cease operations, ending its 139-year-history of service to that community.
In a 4 to 1 vote, the Fonda Village Board passed a resolution Monday night to "dissolve the village owned fire department," citing increased costs of operations, duplication of services and the ability and willingness of the town of Mohawk Fire District to take over fire protection services in the village.
Fonda Trustee Timothy Healey, a former fire chief and 31-year veteran of the department, was the lone dissenting vote.
In a separate vote, the board also approved the contract with Mohawk for fire protection. That measure passed unanimously.
"This is nothing of a personal nature with anyone," Fonda Mayor Bill Peeler said following the vote to dissolve. "I have a lot of compassion for what you do and what you have done for the village of Fonda."
"It think this is for the betterment of the community," he added. "I am very, very sorry for this to have had to happen."
Peeler was present at the meeting via Skype from his Florida home.
The concept of abolishing the department was first explored last year, when Peeler proposed entering into a $21,000 contract with Mohawk for fire protection services. He estimated doing so would save the village more than $20,000 annually.
The plan has since met staunch opposition, from members of both the fire department and the community.
The public hearing that preceded Monday's vote was no exception.
"I think the people that live in this village are owed an explanation," said village resident Layna Maher. "I feel disrespected and I feel like we're being kept in the dark."
Maher said she herself had examined the figures Peeler had been referring to and that they "contradicted" what the Mayor had told the public.
Maher also wanted to know why the money the village would be saving as a result of the dissolution was not being returned to the taxpayers.
"I would expect, since those items will be removed, it will be reflected in my taxes," Maher said. "What's actually going to happen to that money in the budget."
"In a perfect world, I would love to give this money back to you," Peeler replied. "But I live in the real world."
Peeler said the additional savings will go toward desperately needed infrastructure improvements in the village.
"The infrastructure has been neglected for a number of years," Peeler said. "This system's on the brink of being non-existent."
A large portion of the public hearing was dedicated to the contract itself, with firefighter James Maher, who represented the department in the negotiations, asking that the contract be thoroughly read through one final time prior to the vote in order to address some lingering issues.
Maher said he and the department were particularly concerned about the portion of the contract that details the fate of the department's equipment, the majority of which is owned by the fire department.
The contract states that all of the equipment will be turned over to the village no later than 10 days from the effective date of the contract, to be sold off at the village's discretion.
"I don't think we, as a corporation, are on the same page with respect to the equipment," Maher said. "You're binding yourself to selling those assets. I think we're going to want to talk about that."
Maher said the fire department members would have liked to have been able to donate some of the items to fire departments in need.
Maher serves as the president of the fire department's corporation. The department officially incorporated as a non-profit.
"Where we're not on the same page is the difference between the corporation and the fire department," Maher said. "As a general rule, the things that were bought by the corporation should stay with the corporation."
"The members of the corporation feel very strongly that they should be involved in the disposition of all those assets," he added. "If Mohawk doesn't want the equipment, we'd like to be able to give it to anyone that needs it."
Village Attorney Michael Albanese first said that New York State Law dictates that equipment had to be sold through a bid process. He later said it could be donated, but doing so was entirely at the discretion of the village board.
"The lack of understanding here is that incorporating did nothing for you," Albanese said, citing the section of the law that gives the village control over both the department and its assets.
"That's pretty clear," he added. "I don't know how it could be written any clearer."
In the end, however, the board agreed to involve the department members in the ultimate decisions regarding the assets.
Current Fonda Fire Department members have been invited to join the Mohawk Fire Department, but the contract states that they must go through the application process.
The fate of the station itself will be left to the Mohawk Board of Fire Commissioners.
The contract for the fire protection officially expires on March 15, 2015. By then, village and Mohawk fire officials hope to have successfully petitioned the state to officially encompass the village of the Fonda into the Mohawk Fire Protection district.