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Carlton Town Board agrees to increase funding for Fire Department

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Carlton pays less for fire protection than most other towns in Orleans County

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jim Tabor, president of the Carlton Fire Company, is pictured on top of a Carlton pumper, using a master stream to direct more intense water at hay bales that caught on fire on Oct. 11.

CARLTON – The Carlton Fire Company can expect $20,000 more from town taxpayers in 2015, an increase that the fire company president says is sorely needed to help keep up with equipment, fuel, insurance, utilities and other expenses.

The Town Board said it would approve the increase when the town budget is approved next month. Carlton currently contributes $132,800 in town funds towards the fire company.

The $20,000 represents a 15 percent increase. Carlton can set aside that money, plus about $3,000 for contingency, and still remain under the 1.67 percent tax cap. The town isn’t giving raises to town employees.

David Krull, the town highway and water superintendent, told the board he supported the tight budget for other departments to better fund the fire department.

“The whole story here is they are underpaid compared to the other towns,” Krull told the Town Board during a meeting this evening.

Even with the $20,000 increase, Carlton is still on the low end of what towns give for fire protection.

Carlton taxpayers paid a 65 cent tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property for fire protection in 2014. That would increase by 10 cents with the additional $20,000, boosting the total town contribution to $152,800.

For comparison sake, here is how much other towns without contracts with village fire departments paid for fire protection in 2014: Barre, $164,000 at a $1.45 rate; Clarendon, $165,774 at $1.00 rate; Kendall, $160,900 at $1.38 rate to Kendall Fire Department and $66,386 at a $1.55 rate to the Morton Fire Department;

Murray, $190,000 at a $1.61 rate to the Holley Fire Department and $104,500 at a $1.59 rate to Fancher-Hulberton-Murray Fire Company; Ridgeway, $178,798 at a $1.26 rate to the Ridgeway Fire Company; and Shelby, $232,555 at a $1.44 rate to the Shelby and East Shelby fire companies.

“Our numbers were drastically low,” Jim Tabor, the Carlton Fire Company president, told the Town Board after presenting the data. “We’re still drastically low compared to other departments in the county.”

Carlton used to generate $40,000 a year in bingo profits. But that money is no longer there after an indoor smoking ban was enacted and legalized gambling, including video gaming centers, was expanded, Tabor said.

The fire company pressed for a $40,000 increase from the town last year and received about $20,000. It will get another $20,000 hike next year, and then Town Board members said they will only approve modest increases, likely about 2 percent a year, in the future.

Tabor said the bigger increases have been needed because the fire company used up some its reserves and put off needed equipment upgrades.

“We can’t keep digging because there’s nothing left to dig,” said Todd Ferris, a past chief.

Fire company leaders are projecting $173,200 in expenses in 2015. With the town’s contribution at $152,800, plus another $12,000 in fund-raising revenue, Tabor said the department is still short by more than $8,000.

He said 35 air pack bottles need to be replaced by 2017 at a maximum cost of $1,200 each. A new fire truck will soon be needed and that could top $350,000. The fire company has $190,000 saved in a fire truck reserve account.

The fire company is pursuing grants to help with the equipment upgrades, and volunteers continue to raise funds at the recreation hall. But Tabor said the town may need to bolster its support for the department to safely serve the community.

“It’s very difficult to get blood out of a stone,” Tabor told the Town Board. “I don’t know what our options are.”