PHILMONT–At its December meeting, the Claverack Town Board discussed the town’s new contract with the West Ghent Fire Company. Previous fire company leaders did not properly oversee the company’s finances and the state comptroller released the findings of an audit late last year that was critical of the fire company’s management.
The audit was launched after the fire company’s treasurer pleaded guilty to falsifying the company’s business records.
“They’ve had some issues fiscally in regards to theft of some funds,” said Councilman Brian Keeler.
The fire company has said it has addressed the recommendations made by the state comptroller’s office to tighten internal oversight.
“We’ve been meeting periodically with our attorney… and also the Town of Ghent,” he said. The Ghent Town Board also contracts with the West Ghent Fire Company for fire protection in parts of Ghent, Mr. Keeler said.
He and town Supervisor Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt met with the fire company officials and came up with a detailed contract that “strengthens and includes” recommendations made by the comptroller’s office.
Town Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons Jr. said state law now requires financial information to be included on contracts. Negotiations between the comptroller, West Ghent and the Claverack Town Board went on for months until all three parties came to an agreement.
“In essence, we took all of New York State comptroller’s audit recommendations and incorporated them into the contract,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said.
“After the theft, the state came in and seized all their records so they can’t really provide the financial information because they can’t get the copies back from the state,” said Mr. Fitzsimmons, referring to the case of the former fire company treasurer. He said that when the Ghent Town Board was preparing their 2018 town budget, all the supervisor got from the fire company was “a one-page budget sheet and he saw that they were taking money they got from Ghent and putting it in a reserve account.”
Last year the Ghent Town Board voted to reduce its contribution to the West Ghent Fire Company by $10,000 in the 2018 town budget.
Mr. Weigelt explained that Ghent is a fire protection district. “We’re hiring them as a town so we’re liable to know what they know, that’s the biggest thing,” Mr. Weigelt said.
The head of the West Ghent Fire Company wrote in response to the audit report that the company had complied with the comptroller’s recommendations.
Supervisor Weigelt also said at the meeting that the biggest problem all fire companies face now is finding personnel. “They just can’t find young volunteers…. Kids are going in different directions or working out of town. It’s not like it was many years ago when the local farmers lived around here and everyone worked here. We want to help to work together with fire companies and see what we can do to bring people in and join together,” he said.
Mr. Weigelt said that the West Ghent Fire Company has said the company is “very interested” in talking about this issue. “If two people show up at a fire, that’s not a good thing,” said Mr. Weigelt.
Councilwoman Katy Cashen said at the meeting that contract with the Churchtown Fire Company will have to be updated to these terms as well in the near future.
Mr. Fitzsimmons said that would be “easy,” using a contract similar to the agreement to the contract with West Ghent.
In other business at last month’s Town Board meeting:
● Mr. Fitzsimmons gave a report about the historic Shaw Bridge and talked about Claverack resident Ian Nitschke’s presentation to the county Public Works Committee meeting in support of repairing it. “I think the county meeting was very receptive to it,” said Mr. Fitzsimmons. “Dean Knox, who is the county engineer, actually told the committee that he thinks the county should support the project.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons, who is also the county attorney, said he had received an email from Danielle Dwyer of state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that said in part that the county, not the town, might own the bridge. He said he would investigate the matter further.
● Ms. Cashen spoke about two residents who live just off Gahbauer Road in Ghent and who have been unable to receive broadband internet service. “They have a little cul-de-sac on their road, it’s a quarter of a mile long and they cannot get Mid-Hudson Cable to get down that cul-de-sac. They said it would be over $10,000, which would be ridiculous so these people are considering moving because they have young children who need access to the internet,” Ms. Cashen said that the residents are currently using dial-up connections.
She said that the cul-de-sac is part of the service area in Mid Hudson Cable’s latest grant application for the next round of broadband access expansion in the town and said it would be a “good sign” if that included these homes
● Councilwoman Maryanne Lee reported that she and Ms. Cashen are currently looking for alternative spaces for the Town Court building. “I suggested that we look at all the town’s real estate, along with the consideration of the current Claverack Free Library and any other suggestions and possibilities,” said Ms. Lee.
She is currently looking at the design, size and location of other nearby town facilities. The board also discussed replacing the carpets in the current town hall, which hasn’t had new carpeting since it opened in 1992
● Mr. Keeler said the board’s 2018 goals include finishing the town employee handbooks, conducting interviews for open seats on the town planning and zoning boards, reviewing the comprehensive plan as well as the water district, and continuing to plan for moving the Town Court building.
After last Thursday’s snowstorm, the date for the January Town Board was moved to January 11. The organizational meeting was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. with the regular meeting starting at 7 p.m.