Ongoing dispute centers on fire protection charges
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Three days before the April 30 state deadline, Nelsonville’s Village Board adopted a $309,490 budget for 2017-18 — without resolving differences with Cold Spring over costs of fire protection.
Nelsonville’s Village Board hopes to settle the dispute soon. Joined by representatives of the Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC), the three-member board devoted a May 10 workshop to the issue.
“We’re going to drive toward a solution because fire protection is key, public safety is key,” Nelsonville Mayor Bill O’Neill said.
Last fall, Cold Spring asked Nelsonville to pay a proportional share of the rising costs of workers’ compensation premiums and the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), a pension for volunteer firefighters.
Nelsonville balked. Ultimately, its budget set aside $2,500 for hydrant upkeep and $41,500 for firefighting — the same as in 2016, with no increases for worker’s comp or LOSAP.
The budget takes effect on June 1.
This spring, the Nelsonville board announced its intent to avoid dealing with Cold Spring’s government going forward and instead “to come to a direct agreement” with the CSFC, O’Neill told The Current.
That surprised Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy and Trustee Marie Early, who attended the Nelsonville board’s April 27 budget finalization session, expecting to talk about LOSAP. They left when Nelsonville revealed its desire to contract with the CSFC.
“We had no idea they wanted to axe their relationship with Cold Spring,” Merandy said.
However, Nelsonville’s plan quickly crumbled.
O’Neill said an attorney with the New York Conference of Mayors told him Nelsonville could not negotiate directly with the fire company, which Cold Spring oversees.
“We’ve been fighting this” battle over CSFC autonomy for years, Ralph Falloon, a former CSFC chief and former Cold Spring mayor, told the Nelsonville board. “Under [New York’s] municipal law, we are a village fire company,” a unit of Cold Spring’s government, like the highway department, he said. He added that fire company members “support you in your fight with them” — Cold Spring. “They’re collecting money on the backs of the fire department.”
Trustee Thomas Robertson said that “the residents of Cold Spring are paying 100 percent of these [LOSAP] awards,” which raises questions of why Nelsonville should pay more.
O’Neill signaled willingness for Nelsonville to support LOSAP — perhaps after a village referendum. “We’re not against paying into these funds,” Trustee Alan Potts said.
But Nelsonville says it wants everything handled fairly.
The inter-village scrap began Oct. 5, when Merandy wrote to then-Mayor Tom Corless asking that Nelsonville pay 20 cents for every $1,000 of its taxable assessed property value for worker’s comp and LOSAP costs. The village had been paying 16 cents. The cost of fire protection, 75 cents per $1,000, remained unchanged. Cold Spring also sent Nelsonville a new, five-year contract, reflecting the higher LOSAP and worker’s compensation costs.
It never got signed.
The last fire protection contract Nelsonville signed with Cold Spring ran from 2009 to 2013, according to Robertson. “We’ve been without a contract since that time,” he said May 10.
In January, with the 2016 contract in limbo and after being billed by Cold Spring for $21,679, Nelsonville paid $20,675 — withholding the $1,004 for the increases in worker’s comp and LOSAP. (Its payment included money for LOSAP at 16 cents per $1,000.)
Subsequently, Cold Spring received notice of yet another hike in workers’ comp and LOSAP, so it sent Nelsonville a new five-year contract, dated 2017, which lists LOSAP and worker’s comp charges of 23 cents per $1,000 — up 44 percent from the old 16 cents per $1,000.
“A 44 percent increase is significant,” O’Neill said.
The contract from Cold Spring calls for adjusting Nelsonville’s charges annually in February, a timeframe that will “allow Nelsonville to factor the new financials into their budget,” which is drafted each spring, Early explained.
O’Neill and his colleagues prefer for Nelsonville to pay a set sum.
The Town of Philipstown, which uses the CSFC for fire protection for some areas, this year paid $69,060, including workers’ compensation and LOSAP charges, which rose 3 percent and 35 percent, respectively. The Town Board did not contest those increases. Early said the town’s payment is calculated on the basis of taxable assessed property valuations.
O’Neill emphasized the need for Nelsonville to review all options.
“I’m not about to sign [a contract] without doing my due diligence,” he said a few days before the board workshop, adding that “we’re perfectly willing to cooperate. I have better things to do than to throw spitballs.”