Chatham and Ghent firefighters explore merger

CHATHAM – At the regular meeting last Thursday, July 12, the Village Board heard from Chatham Fire Department 1st Asst. Chief John Howe that the department is in preliminary discussions with the Ghent Fire Company to look into consolidating and creating their own fire district.

A new fire district would have taxing authority and a board to oversee the combined fire companies. The Village of Chatham Fire Department is a municipal fire department, funded through lines in the annual village budget. The department must go the Village Board for authorization to purchase equipment and spend funds over a certain amount. The firefighters are volunteers, as are all the other firefighters in the county.

The towns of Chatham, Ghent and Kinderhook have contracts with the Village of Chatham for fire protection. Those towns sign a yearly contract and pay a certain amount to the village for the protection service.

Ghent is a private fire company that contracts with towns for services.

Mr. Howe told the board that members of both of the fire companies that make up the Chatham Fire Department, Ocean Fire Co. No. 1 and S. W. Smith Hook & Ladder Co., support moving in the direction of having their own fire district.

He stressed that the plan is all “very preliminary” but said the department currently has a member who works for the state and the department is looking at finding a consultant to help do the research on the change. There are grants available to do a consolidation study, he said.

Mr. Howe said that the cost for equipment has skyrocketed and there would be a great savings in consolidating with Ghent.

He also talked about taking the fire taxes out of the village budget. A fire district would be totally separate from the village budget, like a school district, with taxes separate from the municipality. Mr. Howe and 2nd Asst. Chief Eric Barnes pointed out that Austerlitz and Stuyvesant have fire districts. Mr. Howe said that his department is looking at a way to support the taxpayers with the best possible service for the best possible cost.

“This could take a number of years,” he told the board.

He said that a study might show that there would be savings in just sharing more services with the neighboring fire company.

“It’s forward thinking,” he said of the plan.

Mr. Barnes also announced at the meeting that the village received a $57,388 grant from the state to purchase an “offroad wildland firefighting” vehicle and trailer. The Village Board approved a motion to accept the grant and to spend the funds to purchase the vehicle. The village will be reimbursed by the state, Mr. Barnes said.

“We expect to get a lot of use out of it,” Mr. Barnes told the board.

Mr. Barnes also presented numbers from the Chatham Fire Department’s software that keeps information on the number of calls firefighters have responded to. He said there has been a 30% increase in calls so far this year. He said some of that is due to storms in March. He also said accidents and structure fires are up.

Mayor Tom Curran thanked the Fire Department, the village police and the Department of Public Works for their work at Summerfest. The event, sponsored by CABA (Chatham Area Business and Arts), was held on July 7. Main Street and Park Row in the village were closed before as well as during the six-hour event, so that vendors could set up.

CABA Board President Debbye Byrum said at the board meeting that the event was “one of the biggest ones we’ve ever had.”

Next year the village will celebrate its 150th year and the county firefighters’ parade and festival will be hosted by village Fire Department, so the village has created a Fairs and Festival Committee. The committee will meet at the Chatham High School on July 31 at 7 p.m. to plan the events, which will start in February. Currently, Ms. Byrum said, next year’s Summerfest and the firefighters parade will be held on consecutive weekends in the summer as part of week-long celebrations.

Also at the meeting:

• The DPW has paved Payn Avenue. The crew stopped at Elm Street and state Route 203 since there is major water pipe replacement and culvert work that needs to be done before the road can be fixed. The DPW’s Phil Genovese said he has budgeted for that work to get done next year. The board did pass a motion, at Mr. Genovese’s request, to lower the vehicle weight limit on the road from 9 tons to 5 tons

• The board approved a contract with the village Police Department and the county Agricultural Society for late night policing during the county fair. The society will pay $1,800 for the extra officers at a night. They also make a $6,000 donation to the village for added security during the days of the fair.

The next regular Village Board meeting will be Thursday, August 9 at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Memorial.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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