N.Y. FD seeks more details from town on giving up financial control

The Copenhagen village board issued an ultimatum to fire leaders: turn the department's finances over to the town or be dissolved completely


Julie Abbass
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

COPENHAGEN, N.Y. — Following passionately shared opinions of the difficult choice being faced – losing control or losing the department all together – the dozen members of the Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department and the department's extended family, the Copenhagen Fire Department Inc., voted to take a middle road.

During their regular monthly meeting Thursday night, about 16 former and current firefighters discussed the ultimatum issued by the village board on Aug. 23: Either hand over control of the department's finances, equipment and fire hall or the department will be dissolved and another department will be contracted to provide village residents protection.

The Copenhagen village board issued an ultimatum to the town's fire department: Either hand over control of the department's finances, equipment and fire hall or the department will be dissolved and another department will be contracted to provide village residents protection.
The Copenhagen village board issued an ultimatum to the town's fire department: Either hand over control of the department's finances, equipment and fire hall or the department will be dissolved and another department will be contracted to provide village residents protection. (Photo/Copenhagen VFD)

Opinions were divided.

Some members, including many who are retired or inactive, argued strongly against giving up financial control, believing that "if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile," as summed up by one attendee. Those with decades of experience in the department said they are concerned they will lose their retirement or have to start over under the village's control.

James Henry, president of the fire department corporation, and three of his family members were also among this group.

Because of the village board's strained relationship with Mr. Henry since the drill team was disbanded in 2018, Chief T.J. Williams has been the one attending village meetings and carrying information between the two sides in an attempt to find a solution to their differences for what he said were the last 18 months.

Mr. Williams, however, said he believes they should hand over the finances to the village for all accounts that use taxpayer money but not the building and equipment. He said he thinks that once the village straightens out the books to its satisfaction, the village board may be willing to allow the department to sign six-month contracts with towns on a probationary basis and from there, if proper accounting procedures are followed, the department will be able to stand on its own again.

Former mayor and fire chief Scott Alexander, William Henry and Lucas Goutermout, agreed with Mr. Williams while a few others wondered what the village meant in the presentation given by the village's lawyer, Candace Randall, two weeks ago in the slide that said "let us do our job."

The final resolution unanimously approved requires Mr. Henry to have the department's lawyer send a letter to Mrs. Randall on behalf of the village saying "we want to cooperate but we need further information," noting that there is a possibility the department will be willing to hand over financial management to the village.

Mr. Henry disputed the village's legal right to take over or sign contracts with towns on the department's behalf, emphasizing that the village collected the department's contract money this year and has not given any of it to the department.

Ultimately, the group also decided they will hold a "community day" and open house on Oct. 2 at the fire hall in order to tell people what has been going on from their point of view.

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(c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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