NEW DISTRICT PROPOSED — The former Prospect Fire Department is shown in this file photo prior to its dissolution. Officials in Town of Trenton and the villages of Prospect, Barneveld and Holland Patent have approved a resolution to create a new fire district which will go before a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, June 9 at Holland Patent Middle School. (Sentinel photo by Makenzi Enos)

New fire district gains steam in wake of Prospect dissolution

Published May 30, 2014 at 4:00pm

TRENTON — Representatives of the village boards of Prospect, Holland Patent and Barneveld, as well as the Town of Trenton, unanimously passed a resolution Thursday calling for the creation of a new joint fire district.

A public hearing on the proposed district will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, June 9 at Holland Patent Middle School.

According to the resolution, the joint fire district would “encompass all of that portion of the Town of Trenton which lies outside of the Village of Remsen, but including all of the corporate limits of the villages of Prospect, Holland Patent and Barneveld.”

Trenton Supervisor Joseph E. Smith said village representatives would have until the June 9 public hearing to choose nominees for the new fire district’s Board of Commissioners. Trenton has tentatively nominated retired Oneida County Emergency Services Director Fred VanNamee as well as Geri Speich, who is serving as the town’s master plan coordinator.

Prospect plans to nominate John Brown, and Barneveld has named Truman Williams II. Holland Patent had not yet made a decision as of Thursday. Nominees must be town residents if not from the prospective villages.

During the hearing, it will also be decided when the old fire districts would be officially disbanded and when the new one would be put into effect. A new commission is expected to take charge of the joint district sometime in July, Smith said.

The supervisor said he hopes the public hearing will go smoothly and answer any questions area residents or officials may have about the joint district.

“I haven’t heard any negativity about this from the public,” he said.

The new joint district is the result of a decision made by Prospect voters back in September to dissolve the fire department.

In July of last year, village officials identified a claim stemming from an incident back in 2008 at the fire department’s field days, during which a member injured her foot.

In order to respond to that workers compensation claim, insurance premiums for the village could rise to anywhere between $44,000 to $72,000 by next year, officials had said. Prospect, with a population of 291, takes in less than $28,000 in taxes a year.

Prospect Mayor Frances Righi said a second claim against the department was also filed earlier this year. Righi said the village has settled both claims but must pay out a total $686,000. The village has six years to pay it off.

“This year and next year we can make the payments, but after that, our (insurance) premiums will go up to $139,000 a year,” Righi said.

The mayor said the village has started an “efficiency grant” that will allow officials to work with the Town of Trenton.

“We’re conducting a study to see if there’s a way through the mess we’re in,” Righi said. The mayor had previously said that with bankruptcy looming, the small village would consider dissolving and becoming part of Trenton.

A committee has been formed to conduct the study that is comprised of village and town officials, as well as member of the communities.

“It’s going to be a process,” Righi said. “We have a lot of properties that we own, we have assets, our own water district and we give out scholarships. That all has to be looked into.”

A legal battle between the village and fire department continues with a trial date scheduled for June 16. The dispute is over the ownership of all the firefighting gear and apparatus. Village officials were hoping to sell the equipment to help pay off the workers’ compensation claims, but firefighters wanted to keep the equipment in case it became a working department again.

Firefighters are also fighting for their station, even though it sits on village owned property.

Fire officials were suppose to submit supporting documents for their claims, “but they still haven’t produced anything,” Righi said Thursday. At least two previous hearings had been postponed to give the department time to produce documents.

Righi blames her village’s problems on the Oneida County Self-Insurance Plan.

She has said the county Workers’ Compensation Department would look into a re-payment plan for Prospect on the claims, but no further discussions have taken place.

“The Oneida County Self-Insurance Plan is Russian Roulette, and hopefully this decision” to form a joint fire district, “shows other towns and villages now know what can happen to them,” she said. “They pulled the trigger on Prospect and we got shot.”