ALBERTON -- The members of Alberton Rural Fire District Committee will meet tonight in response to a demand made Monday night by Alberton Town Council.
Council decided Monday to give the fire district until this Thursday, April 17, to sign a contract for fire service from the town.
The actual deadline for having the service contract signed and returned was March 31, but that deadline came and went without a response, prompting council to set an absolute deadline. Fire committee chair Krystyna Pottier was non-committal on what would happen if the rural fire district committee did not sign the contract by the new deadline.
“Well, then, we’d have to have a special council meeting and discuss the situation and see how we proceed from there,” she answered.
This is the first time that council sought a signed contract for the fire service the Alberton Fire Department provides. Administrator Susan Wallace-Flynn, said a service contract was recommended by the Fire Marshall’s office and staff with Municipal Affairs.
The town also requested signed contracts from the municipalities of Northport and Greenmount-Montrose and they have been signed and returned, albeit after the March 31 deadline. Dave Pizio, chair of the Greenmount-Montrose has admitted, though, that he is concerned with the wording on the contract.
Cletus Dunn, a member of the Alberton Rural Fire District Committee complained that the committee only learned of the new contract and the reason for the big raise in fire dues after their annual meeting when fire rates for the year were set.
Rates were communicated to the committee during a meeting with the town on March 7. The fire district had held its annual meeting on March 4.
The town had a meeting with the fire districts scheduled for March 4 but it was cancelled because committee members were unavailable.
Dunn said the committee was informed by the fire chief during the fire district’s annual meeting on March 4 that the fire budget would be going up $2,000 this year. He said that increase seemed manageable. They would later learn the rates for the three rural fire districts all went up significantly this year because the town approved a change in the fire service formula during its annual meeting on March 10.
Previously the three rural districts combined paid 75.6 per cent of the fire department’s budget and the town covered the rest. Under the new formula, the rural districts are responsible for 85 per cent and the town covers the rest.
Pottier said Tuesday the change in formula makes sense, pointing out fuel costs alone makes it more expensive to respond to fire calls outside of Alberton. She noted only 51 of the 119 calls the fire department answered last year were within the town. So far this year, she said, there have been 25 emergency calls and only eight of those were inside the town.
The new formula has the three districts covering $137,000 of the $161,299 fire budget, with the Alberton Rural Fire District responsible for $111,945.54.
While Dunn admitted the committee is concerned about the rate increase, he stressed the committee has no issue with the fire department. “The firemen do a fantastic job for us; unbelievable job for us. We probably have the best fire department in the area,” he suggested.