TUPPER LAKE - Two members of the town board questioned current plans for a new building to house the village police and fire departments, at a special meeting Tuesday two hours before a public referendum on the project was set to begin.
Town Supervisor Roger Amell said during the special meeting that the village had proposed the town cover 70 percent of the costs of the fire department side of the building. Amell said he told village representatives from the beginning the town would only agree to cover half of it.
"We told them the town wasn't on board with the 70 percent toward the building," Amell said.
Councilwoman Kathy Lefebvre said the village should have come to an agreement with the town on the numbers before the public vote was scheduled.
"All of this should have been decided prior to the referendum," she said. "Things haven't been settled."
She said she knows the village was trying to stay on a timeline that would allow it to get the structure built enough to have it enclosed by the winter, but she said it was too rushed.
Amell and Lefebvre both sat on the committee of town, village, fire and police department and taxpayer representatives that put together the proposal for the building over the last year-and-a-half.
Both said they didn't want to bad-mouth anyone, and they know the committee worked hard on it. Lefebvre said she gives the committee credit for getting it to the point of a referendum, since it has been stalled much earlier in the process for years.
Councilwoman Patti Littlefield asked if the sharing of costs hadn't been discussed during the committee process. Lefebvre said the committee put off the discussion each time it came up.
"They kept saying we were working it out," Amell said.
When asked for a response after the meeting, village Fire Commissioner Rick Donah said it makes sense to have the referendum first so the village can get its grant funding in place, then the town and village can haggle over cost sharing. The project manager contracted to bring the project to a referendum, Sean Foran of Hueber-Breuer Construction, has said he has been all but guaranteed $1.3 million in grant funding for the project, but he needs an approved referendum before it is settled and in writing.
He noted the entire issue would be moot if the referendum had failed Tuesday.
Later Tuesday, Lefebvre clarified that she is not against the project, but she is concerned about the funding.
"Roger is pushing the 50-50 payment but I actually wanted the town to pay a little more than the village because I felt the village people just can't afford to pay more," Lefebvre told the Enterprise in an email.
She came to the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library to watch the ballots being counted along with other supporters of the building.
"I am very happy that it passed and know we will work out the finances," Lefebvre said in the email.
Village Clerk Mary Casagrain said later Tuesday that the percentage proposed may be 70-30, but those proportions mean every property owner in the town and village pay the same amount for fire protection.
Tuesday morning's meeting was the first time any town board members questioned the project in a public forum.
At an April town board meeting, Foran and firefighters gave a presentation to the town board on the project. At the time, Littlefield and Councilman David Tomberlin said they were looking for ways to help sell the project.
Littlefield commented on what a good job the committee did in its work on the project and said she believes Tupper Lake would be getting a good deal for the estimated price.
"This is fantastic, truly," Littlefield said. "I totally agree the fire department needs something and the police department needs more than something."
Lefebvre and Amell stayed largely quiet during that discussion, with Amell asking a few questions. Councilman Jerry Fletcher wasn't vocal in either conversation.
Town control of department
Amidst all this, Amell said the town is seeking to take over control of the fire department.
"If they want us to pay the 70 percent, then we might as well go town-wide," Amell said. "So that'll be coming up in our discussions."
The last time the area's representative on the state Senate, Betty Little, tried for a bill that would allow the town to take over, she used language that would apply to all the towns in the state. Since then, though, she successfully passed a bill that specifically let the town of Malone take over its fire department without creating a fire district.
Littlefield suggested all the members of the town and village boards meet and make sure they are on the same page. Other board members said talks with past village boards have not worked well.
"Patti, they will not discuss it," Fletcher said.
Lefebvre said it's a shame the town didn't take over the fire department before the referendum. Then residents of the town could vote it in it as well as village residents, a point of contention amongst town residents - especially those who own property in the village.
Dan McClelland, editor and publisher of the Tupper Lake Free Press, said it makes a lot of sense for the town to take control of the fire department, given the amount of funding it contributes.
Village Mayor Paul Maroun said the bill is being drafted. Before it can be introduced, he said it needs resolutions of support from both the town and village.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.