Lyndonville, Yates officials give good reviews to new fire district

Photos by Tom Rivers: Lyndonville Fire District Chairman Scott Goetske, Lyndonville Fire Department President David Hydock and Fire Chief Mike Heideman are pictured inside the fire hall.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 May 2023 at 1:21 pm

LYNDONVILLE – Village and town officials, as well as leaders of the fire department are positive about a new change for funding and managing the Lyndonville Fire Department.

On Jan. 1, the management shifted from the Lyndonville Village Board to commissioners on a newly formed Lyndonville Fire District.

The funding also is collected through the fire district, rather than by the Village of Lyndonville, which also had a contract with the Town of Yates for fire protection.

Lyndonville followed the Village of Holley in a shift to a fire protection district. The Village of Albion also is discussing moving the fire department’s management and financing to a fire protection district.

“It was definitely a smart move governmentally,” said Jim Simon, the Yates town supervisor.

The town in recent years funded about 80 percent of the fire department budget through a contract with the village and he said the contract negotiations were often challenging with some “minor disputes.” Simon said the town officials didn’t always feel included in the fire department’s budget and operations even though town residents outside the village paid the bulk of the bill.

With the fire district, the costs are spread out through the overall assessed value in the town (which includes the village) with property owners paying a fire district tax. That rate is $1.05 per $1,000 of assessed property in 2023. The previous year, Yates property owners outside the village paid a 74-cent rate per $1,000 of assessed property as part of the contract with the village.

The Town Board and Village Board each appointed commissioners to the fire district, and those posts will be up for election this year. Scott Goetske is the group’s chairman. Other commissioners include Jim Hydock, a retired Rochester firefighter; John Flanagan, a Lyndonville firefighters; Edward Jay, a banking executive; and Terry Woodworth, Lyndonville’s DPW superintendent.

David Hydock is the Lyndonville Fire Department president and Mike Heideman is the fire chief. There are 27 active firefighters.

“We have five really good people,” Simon said about the commissioners. “They can answer directly to public. My vote was in support of a fire district. It’s better use of governance and the responsibilities of a governing body are more clearly defined.”

Lyndonville Mayor John Belson and the Village Board also backed the move to the fire district. He said the commissioners can be focused on managing the fire department.

“It puts the people in charge,” Belson said.

The fire district can also use the fire hall for fundraisers, and is more autonomous whoch may appeal to new members, Belson said.

The fire district has a new off-road vehicle that is was able to purchase with proceeds from fundraisers and donations from the community.

The fire district is still subject to the 2 percent tax cap imposed by the state. That cap can be exceeded by a vote of the commissioners.

The Village Board agreed to transfer ownership of the fire hall, trucks and equipment to the fire district without a charge.

“We made them clean going in, with no debt,” Belson said.

The Village Board recently adopted a village budget for 2023-24 that doesn’t include the fire department. The department’s budget is now managed and collected by the fire district.

Not having the fire department is the main reason the village tax rate is falling 3.1 percent from $16.46 to $15.95 per $1,000 of assessed property. The tax levy for the village is down 2.6 percent from $501,199 in 2022-23 to $488,066 in the new budget for 2023-24.

Goetske, chairman of the commissioners and recently retired after 35 years with the Air Force (including as a chief master sergeant), said the group of commissioners has been visiting other fire districts to gain insights on how to best run a district.

He appreciates that there are commissioners, Jim Hydock and John Flanagan, who have experience as firefighters. The commissioners also work closely with Fire Chief Mike Heideman and Fire Department President Dave Hydock.

Goetske wants to make sure the fire department has the equipment and personnel needed to serve and protect the community, and to do it in a cost-effective way.

“I commend the mayor and the town supervisor for bringing everyone together,” Goetske said.

Heideman, the fire chief, said he is glad for the change to commissioners who are focused on the fire department. With the Village Board, the mayor and trustees were managing multiple departments in the village government and other community issues.

“I think it’s a big weight off their shoulders,” Heideman said about taking the fire department out of the village budget. “We can focus solely on safety and meeting the needs of the public.”

The fire district increased the budget for the department from $184,000 to $206,586, with legal expenses at $14,240 as part of the formation of a new district.

The fire district can’t utilize village staff to clean the fire hall or to fix fire trucks. Goetske said the district appreciates that the village will continue to plow the parking lot at the fire hall and maintain the generator.

Goetske said the cost of running a fire department has been an eye-opener. The district recently acquired three sets of turnout gear with ants and a coat and that was $8,500, not counting the helmet, hood and gloves.

The fire district will likely need to soon replace some of the fire trucks for Lyndonville. The district has five fire trucks and a new off-road utility vehicle.

One pumper is 31 years old, another is 22 years and a tanker is 18 years old. Replacing one of those trucks is in the $500,000 range.

Hydock said the commissioners are working cooperatively with the fire department to address the issues. He is pleased the village and town voted to make the change to a fire district.

“It has always been a struggle to make a budget for the fire department,” he said. “Everybody is wrestling with numbers in this day and age.”