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Gaines says it’s willing to pay more for fire protection, but wants a fair contract

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 May 2016 at 12:00 am
Firefighters in Gaines

File photo by Tom Rivers – Firefighters are pictured in this photo from April 13, 2015 at a fire on Eagle Harbor Road in Gaines.

ALBION – The Town of Gaines agrees it needs to pay more for fire protection, but town officials don’t believe it should be three times what town residents are currently paying the Village of Albion in a fire protection contract.

“We have acknowledged the rate is low,” said Andrew Meier, the town attorney.

The Village Board on April 13 voted to terminate the contract with Gaines, effective 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 31. Village officials said the town has rejected Albion’s offer for the fire contract.

Albion was seeking $100,000 from Gaines for fire protection. That is the same as the Town of Albion pays the village for fire protection outside the village.

That contract resulted in a fire protection tax rate of $1 per $1,000 of assessed property for the Town of Albion. In Gaines, where the town pays the village $33,860, the rate is 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed property, by far the lowest in the county. The Town of Yates is next lowest at 49 cents with Carlton at 75 cents. Every other town pays at least $1 for fire protection.

Meier and the Gaines Town Board have asked for the fire department’s budget, and then want to discuss how to fairly share those costs among the two towns and the village.

The village has wanted to share the costs with a formula based on assessed value. Gaines has suggested a hybrid approach that would include the call volume per municipality.

The gross assessed value for the Town of Albion (outside village) is $109.7 million, nearly the same as the gross assessed value in Gaines ($112.2 million.) The village’s gross assessed value is $189.6 million or about 46 percent of $411.5 million total.

The village in 2013 accounted for 66 percent or 193 of the 269 emergency calls, while the Town of Albion represented 52 calls or 17.9 percent with Gaines accounting for 46 calls or 15.8 percent.

In 2014, the village represented 167 of the 291 emergency calls for 67.1 percent, with the Town of Albion at 64 calls (23.8 percent) and Gaines at 38 calls or 14.1 percent, according to data provided by Meier.

Given the shares of gross assessed value and call volume, Meier said Gaines should pay a small percentage of the fire department budget. He agrees Gaines should pay more than the current rate, but he wants to dissect the fire department’s budget and determine a fair system for sharing the costs among the village and towns.

Meier said the village’s breakdown of fire department expenses show a total cost of $243,839 for June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017. It wouldn’t be fair if Gaines and the Town of Albion each paid $100,000, with the village only paying $43,839, Meier said.

John Gavenda, the village’s attorney, said in correspondence to Meier that the budget is actually closer to $300,000 to $350,000. Meier has sought clarification on the total expenses.

The village’s $243,839 budget for the fire department breaks out the following expenses: $80,000 for approximate bond payment for new fire truck: $16,216 for approximate bond payment for AFD roof: $65,512 for budget; $1,500 for AFD building repairs; $7,043 for chief’s vehicle payment; $7,899 for AFD pickup; $6,512 for Engine 31 repairs; $6,367 for worker’s compensation; $20,458 for vehicle insurance; $4,063 for life insurance; $1,459 for fire accident coverage; $5,000 for electric; $1,500 for heat; $599 for Internet and $19,707 for insurance.

Gaines officials have contended that Gaines should simply pay the same contract as the Town of Albion, even if they have similar tax bases with both at about $110 million.

Meier, in a letter to Gavenda on Feb. 1, 2016, said Gaines is almost entirely residential, although it does have several businesses and a museum on Ridge Road, and two large agricultural processing/production facilities.

The Town of Albion in contrast has higher-risk businesses, offices and institutional properties, such as two correctional facilities, Wal-Mart, the nursing home, car dealerships and county offices.

“We extended requests to keep talking about this,” Meier said in an interview. “We haven’t agreed upon a methodology for a number. So far we’ve only been presented with a demand to triple our contribution.”