MACEDON — When it comes to the future of the Macedon Village Fire Department, it's a waiting game, said Fire Chief Tim Wilcox.
Last week, the Town Board authorized the formation of a new fire company that would serve a portion of the same territory protected under town contract by the village department for more than 114 years. The Town Board is now awaiting a business plan that will spell out the logistics of forming a new fire department.
According to Wilcox, three former members of the village department came up with the idea, believing it was in the best interest of the membership. The three ex-members left the department within the past month, Wilcox said, but the department has seen no further losses in their volunteer force. The village department members met on Oct. 1, Wilcox said, and unanimously agreed that they would continue to serve as the Macedon Village Fire Department moving forward.
"We believe that interests of our community, including the town of Macedon, are best served by our continuing to function as we are," a prepared statement by the village department states. "We cannot justify the significant additional costs that will result from shutting down an existing department to establish a new one."
The formation of the new department, to be called the South Macedon Fire and Rescue Inc., is a huge undertaking and an unnecessary expense, Wilcox noted, since the village department already has everything needed to perform the same services.
Macedon Town Councilman Paul Kenyon said the board was approached about the proposed fire department, and that the town has done nothing to lure village members to the new department. The town's authorization is just a first step in a process that may allow a new department to form or may not, he said.
Taxpayer money will not be used to fund the department's formation or to equip the department, he added. The South Macedon department would have to bond the money to get the department up and running, and only then would the town consider contracting with them, he said. The new fire department could serve under the current fire district already in place, he said. Kenyon also noted that any new contract would not mean more taxpayer money being spent, but instead, the town would most likely re-negotiate its contract with the Macedon Center Fire Department for less money. In the end, Kenyon said, the same amount of money would be spent on fire safety for the town.
The Macedon Village Fire Department is facing a rough road. This past April, the town opted to enter into a five-year agreement with Macedon Center Fire Department to cover a large portion of the town south of the Erie Canal — territory the village department already protected. Right now, both departments are contracted to answer calls south of the canal. At that time, the town also renewed a one-year contract with the village department, but the town apparently may not renew that contract. The contract expires on Dec. 31, but it would remain in effect until the town signs a new contract — whether that is with the village department or a newly formed department.
Page 2 of 3 - On Oct. 24, the town will hold public hearings as it renews three annual fire contracts. Wilcox said the village department's contract was originally set for a public hearing on that day as well, but has been canceled indefinitely. The $104,000 contract with the town makes up the majority of the village department's budget, and without it, Wilcox said the department's future is uncertain and they face reduced services or possibly closing entirely.
Macedon Supervisor Bill Hammond and Mayor Marie Cramer could not be reached for comment before press time. However, Cramer issued this statement by email to the Wayne Post on Friday, the day after the Town Board approved the formation of a new fire department: "The village of Macedon and its fire department are willing to enter into the same agreement that we have entered into with the town for the past several years. The village of Macedon and its fire department are willing to enter into agreements similar to those that the town is entering into with the other three fire departments that serve their respective fire protection districts within the town. The village of Macedon and its fire department will do so without any increase in price simply because we have no choice. Despite this, the town states that the village is being unreasonable."
According to Wilcox, the problem isn't with the village fire department. The department's fire equipment is in good shape and they maintain a 20-year replacement plan on their trucks. There have also have been no complaints about the department's service record. Instead, the problem for the town appears to lie with the Village Board itself.
"At the meeting last week, (the town) told us they don't have a problem with the Macedon Village Fire Department," Wilcox said. "They said 'you guys do an excellent job. Our problem solely resides with the Macedon Village Board.'"
The angst between town and village has been an ongoing issue for years for a host of public safety issues, including police and ambulance services.
The idea of using a liaison that would allow the village department to work directly with the town on fire-related issues has also been suggested, but the problem between town and village appears to be rooted in trust — or a lack there of. The town simply doesn't seem to trust the village with town money where the Town Board has no say in how the money is used.
Kenyon said the Town Board has good reason not to trust the Village Board based on past circumstances. But more recently, after the joint meeting between town and village earlier this year, Kenyon said the town left the meeting with three expectations — none of which he said have been fulfilled.
First, in light of the fact that town tax money funds 70 percent of the village fire department, the town expected to gain property rights on the department's trucks. Second, they expected 35 percent of the money in the contract to go directly to the fire department to use as they see fit, as opposed to being funneled through the village to the fire department. Third, the town wanted accountability to see where the money was going. The recent contract offered to the town for fire services through the village fails to address any of those expectations, Kenyon said.
Page 3 of 3 - "We're supporting the fire department at 70 percent and we have no say," he said. "(The village has) been good about making us out to be the bad guys. That's just not true. We're concerned the village would hold us hostage. If we complained about where the money had gone, the trucks wouldn't roll."
Kenyon said the town had no issue with the department's purchase of a new ladder truck — the town just would've liked to have known about it first.
Wilcox said the department could legally separate itself from the village to resolve the problem, but the expense would be great for services the village now performs for the department, such as snowplowing, maintenance, workers comp and so on. Kenyon suggested those costs could be included in a contract directly with the town.
Despite the problems between town and village, Wilcox said relations between the village department and Macedon Center Fire Department remain amiable.
The Macedon Village Fire Department has posted information about this issue, including the history, on their website at www.macedonfire.org. They are asking residents in the town and village to support them in keeping their department alive. They are also willing to make their books and records available for Town Board and public review.