Petitions will be available this week to force referendum on fire district for Albion, Gaines

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 May 2024 at 11:58 am

ALBION – A petition is now available to force a referendum on a proposed joint fire district serving the Village of Albion, and towns of Albion and Gaines.

Representatives plan to be at Hoag Library this week from 4 to 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday with a petition.

The town boards for the two towns plus the Albion Village Board on April 30 met and voted to create a joint fire district. The new district would move the fire department out of the village budget and into its own taxing jurisdiction with elected commissioners.

The two towns currently pay a fire contract to the village for fire protection.

The vote from the two towns and the village creates a new district to take effect on Jan. 1. The three municipalities are expected to soon appoint five commissioners who would likely start on July 1 and serve about six months until the five commissioners can be elected in December.

But some community members want the joint fire district to go to a public vote. Richard DeCarlo Jr., co-owner of the Heritage Estates mobile home park, and Laura Bentley, owner of Bentley Brothers and the Tavern on the Ridge, say more details are needed on the costs to taxpayers with the new joint fire district.

DeCarlo and Bentley do not live within the fire district, but they are both significant taxpayers in Albion and Gaines. They both said they support the joint fire district, but more information should be provided to the public.

“I understand there is a need for this,” DeCarlo said about the fire district. “It has to happen. But there’s been a lack of transparency.”

Bentley and DeCarlo believe a public referendum would force the local officials to present more details, and the plans for the fire department’s future in regards to new fire trucks, whether a new fire hall is in the pipeline, and other expenditures.

During an April 24 public hearing about the joint fire district, residents were told the fire district budget would likely be $750,000 to $850,000 a year, well above the current $350,000 for the fire department. That $350,000 has left the fire department without a reserve fund for a new ladder truck at an estimated $2.2 million and another fire engine at about $1.1 million. Those trucks will be needed in the near future to replace aging apparatus, deputy fire chief John Papponetti said.

The fire district intends to lease the current fire hall on Platt Street. But DeCarlo would like to know if that is the long-term plan for the district, to stay at the current fire hall or build a new one.

During the public hearing, residents could ask questions, but no answers were provided outside of the prepared presentation.

Because three different municipal boards voted in favor of forming the district, three different petitions are being passed to force a referendum. The petitions need to be turned in within 30 days from the April 30 votes from the three boards.

Bentley said the two towns require signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election. She said that is about 100 in both Gaines and Albion.

But the village requires signatures from at least 20 percent of the registered voters or about 650 people.

“Everyone is in a favor of a fire district,” Bentley said. “But we want to see more information, including a budget breakdown for the next three years.”