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Santa Clara to research fire protection from other towns

July 16, 2010

SARANAC INN - The town of Santa Clara plans to find out what it would take to replace the fire protection it gets from Saranac Lake with protection from another town's firefighters, possibly Tupper Lake's or Paul Smiths/Gabriels'.

Town leaders weren't as upset about the village deciding to switch to charging based on taxable assessed land value as they were about the fact that village leaders didn't consult them on the decision.

"There have been absolutely no negotiations or direct talks from the village," said town Supervisor Marcel "Mickey" Webb. "They haven't even bothered to sit down with us and chat."

Councilman Thomas Chipperfield said taxpayers tell him they feel disenfranchised by the decision: They are being charged, but by not allowing their elected officials to negotiate, they don't have a voice in the matter.

Webb said he found out the decision had been made by reading the newspaper, and then the town received several letters about it.

According to the new rate schedule laid out in a letter from village Manager John Sweeney, Santa Clara would be charged $48,655.88 in 2011. Since the village won't begin charging by assessed value until June 1, that figure is lower than the $68,720 the town would pay under a full year using the taxable assessed value formula. By comparison, the town paid $28,591 this year.

The money for next year's contract would be due by Feb. 1, 2011, and the town needs to make a decision by Dec. 31.

Webb said the town can negotiate with different fire departments to get the services it now gets from Saranac Lake. He said he talked with Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost, and "he said, Mick, it's half a dozen of one and six of the other as far as response time."

Santa Clara already also contracts with Tupper Lake, Paul Smiths/Gabriels and St. Regis Falls for fire and rescue protection in different parts of the town. Webb said that although Saranac Lake officials suggested that charging by assessed value is the norm, the town doesn't pay that way with any of those other departments.

Webb noted that the town has an average of three to five fire calls from Saranac Lake a year.

"The village needs all the equipment and all the volunteers they have," Chipperfield said. "The few calls they make into the towns are just the gravy to pay for it."

For rescue service, Webb said the town has a certificate of need it has to abide by that requires it to contract through Saranac Lake. According to the information sent by the village, 50 percent of the $48,000 charge would be for fire and the other 50 percent would be for rescue protection, which town board members said should not be the case.

Since the rescue squad is trying to separate from the fire department, Webb said he is confused about whether the village can negotiate for the new entity or not.

Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said Thursday that the village has established "a reasonable price tag for the service, no matter where you live."

"It will cost $59.80 a year for the owner of a $150,000 house," he said. "Everyone I've talked to from Bloomingdale to Gabriels to Saranac Inn has said they didn't realize what a good deal that was. We stand by this methodology. We stand by it 100 percent."

Rabideau acknowledged that Santa Clara is one of three towns that will pay more under the taxable assessed value formula. The other two are Harrietstown, which would see its fire and rescue contract rise from $171,550 to $236,893, and Franklin, which would see its rescue contract increase from $30,879 to $39,780.

The switch to an assessed value-based formula would save the village $104,000, the town of St. Armand $4,605, the town of North Elba $3,781 and the town of Brighton $1,239, according to figures provided by the village.

These figures are for a full year under the taxable assessed value formula.



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