Albion may pursue fire district with own commissioners, taxing jurisdiction
ALBION – The Village Board wants to look into moving the fire department out of the village budget and into its own fire district that would also serve the towns of Albion and Gaines.
Many villages have recently moved to separating the fire department from a village service to being its own taxing jurisdiction with a board of commissioners.
Holley and Elba recently created fire districts and Oakfield is in the process of doing it, said Barry Flansburg, a fire commissioner for the Barre Fire District. He also works as an assessor for Barre, Byron, Elba and Oakfield.
Right now the fire department is part of the Albion village budget. The village also has contracts with the towns of Albion and Gaines to provide fire protection.
If there was a fire district, there would be a separate tax from the fire district that would be part of the tax bill that comes out in January.
It would also mean the village tax rate would likely go down because the fire department wouldn’t be included in the village budget. (However, there would be a new tax for village residents with a fire district.) Right now the fire department insurance is included in the village insurance. And village mechanics from the Department of Public Works spend time on fire trucks.
With a fire district, the village staff, in-kind services and other expenses would be clearly identified and the village would likely be reimbursed for those costs, which might include rent for the fire hall.
That is among the benefits of a fire district: knowing the clear costs of the fire department, Flansburg said. Right now some of the costs are absorbed in the village budget, such as the mechanic, fire hall, insurance and other costs.
“You could set this up with a focus on improving service,” Flansburg said. “Right now you can’t put your finger on how much it costs.”
Flansburg sees an asset in a board of commissioners that provide the oversight. That board would be focused on running the fire department as a business, he said.
The Village Board currently oversees the fire department, while also overseeing other aspects of the village government, including police, water, sewer, the cemetery, the village office and other services.
“From a village standpoint, it would be one less thing that you have to worry about,” Flansburg said.
The Village Board passed a resolution on Wednesday to pursue looking into a fire district. Village officials said they would reach out to town officials in Albion and Gaines. If a fire district is established, the three municipal boards – Albion Village Board, Albion Town Board and Gaines Town Board – all need to support it.
There will be several public informational meetings and public hearings if the issue moves forward. Flansburg also urged the village to have an attorney who specializes in creating fire districts lead a public informational meeting for the community, explaining the legal process in creating a fire district.
Harry Papponetti, the Albion fire chief, said the fire department supports pursuing a fire district. But he didn’t want the Village Board to feel slighted.
“We’re not saying we don’t like the Village Board,” he said. “You’ve been overwhelmingly to the fire department. We just want to make it easier for you.”
The fire commissioners are elected positions, and many commissioners in other fire districts are not firefighters. They are often business leaders looking to run the department as efficiently as possible, Flansburg said.
Village Trustee Pete Sidari works for the North Greece Fire District. He said many fire departments in Monroe County are going to fire districts.
“It’s the same firemen, the same trucks,” he said. “You’re just shifting the liability to the fire district.”