Fire ratings rumors leave chief feeling burned

CLAVERACK–The organization that determines fire risk ratings has lowered the rating a notch for part of the town effective May 1 of this year in a move that could increase fire insurance costs for some residents. But West Ghent Fire Chief Jim Cesternino told the Town Board this month that his fire company has taken steps to reverse that risk-rating change.

The issue came up at the monthly Claverack Town Board Meeting February 3 with a report that ISO, the Insurance Services Office, Inc., a private firm that establishes fire risk ratings used by insurance companies, has lowered the rating from 5 to 6 for the part of the town covered by the West Ghent Fire Company. The ratings are on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is the best rating. West Ghent, in the neighboring Town of Ghent, received a rating of 5. The lower rating for properties in Claverack could lead to higher costs for fire insurance.

The new rating for Claverack properties in the West Ghent coverage area is based on the need to repair fire hydrants, an issue that can only be addressed if the county builds a water storage tower, which would increase the amount of water available at the hydrants, said Chief Cesternino.

At the Town Board meeting, the chief requested that town Supervisor Robin Andrews read aloud emails and letters regarding this issue. And the chief expressed frustration at what he called “the convenience store pipeline” of rampant rumors spreading misinformation.

“Before we talk publicly, we need to get our facts straight. Someone should contact us if it concerns West Ghent,” Chief Cesternino said. The fire company has improved its hose testing and record keeping, he said, noting that these changes should add points to the overall score that sets the rating. And he said the fire company has made the improvements it can do on its own.

In an interview after the meeting, the chief said, “The main things I am trying to do is to put my community at ease. We are providing adequate fire protection and the fire company has and will continue to work on ISO to retain the 5 classification. Every day we work toward keeping fire taxes at a minimum and to keep us up and running.”

The board acknowledged that the West Ghent Fire Company has provided adequate fire protection without large budget increases. The 2001 fire district budget was $29,000 and the 2010 budget is $35,000, an average increase of well under $1,000 per year.

In other business, Town Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons reported that work on property reassessments will begin soon. And he issued a reminder that March 1 is the deadline for applications requesting property tax exemptions from senior citizens and people with disabilities who have low or moderate incomes. For more information about the property tax exemptions, residents should call Charlie Brewer, chairman of the town’s elected assessors, at (518) 672-4470.

In the absence of Zoning Revision Committee Chair Chris Post, committee member Gretchen Stearns reported that the committee is reviewing zoning and subdivision rules to see whether they follow the guidelines of the town’s comprehensive plan. A letter was recently mailed to residents, asking for volunteers to join the committee. “Persons in the public meetings have shown enthusiasm. There is a lot of talent in this area. Interest of the community in pitching in and helping should be encouraged and praised,” said Ms. Stearns.

She said that the committee’s work often gets bogged down in delays and the necessity to include the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. She said the committee is trying to make the revision process smoother and more user friendly. At the meeting, the Town Board also decided that Claverack would discontinue working with the Webbery. Ms. Andrews reported that a volunteer will review and restructure the town website, making it more user friendly. The board authorized Ms. Andrews to sign a grant application seeking $2,000 from the state for solar panels at the town hall and offices. And the board announced that Claverack town employees may now join the Greene County Credit Union.

The Wednesday meeting was the first on that day under the new town meeting schedule. In a press release, Ms. Andrews said that the change means that town meetings no longer take place the same night as Philmont village meetings, a situation that had prevented officials and the public from attending both meetings. She also said that because the town and the village both employ Mr. Fitzsimmons as legal counsel, the lawyer would no longer have to leave the meeting of one municipality to attend the meeting of the other, a situation that was a disservice to both the village and the town.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said he was agreeable to the change.

The next Town Board meeting is March 3.

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