OSWEGO, NY – A sub-committee of the Oswego County Legislature is exploring the possibility of creating a county-wide fire district.
There is no state law on the books that allow a county-wide fire district, committee chair Legislator Frank Castiglia said.
Members of the County-wide Fire District Sub-Committee include legislators Jacob Mulcahey, James Karasek and Richard Kline. They met Wednesday to provide some updates and share information.
“Our mission is to explore the pros and cons of creating a county-wide fire district in Oswego County. We will present the results of our investigation to the Public Safety Committee along with a resolution asking the state to enable Oswego County to create a country-wide fire district,” Castiglia told Oswego County Today. “If the results are not in favor of creating a county-wide fire district at such time our mission will end.”
He said he has contacted two counties in Florida and two in South Carolina with 15 to 20 questions regarding fire districts.
“Our goal should be threefold. The safety of the firemen, safety of the residents and what we can do on cost savings,” he said.
“There is still a lot of work for us to do on this. I don’t even know how to answer the question when people say, ‘How will am I going to save money on my taxes because of a county-wide fire district?’ I support having a conversation on this; I think conversation is worth having,” Legislator Karasek said. “I’ll be interested in seeing what feedback you get from other counties. I’m not getting a lot of positive feedback from the community.”
Oswego County Fire Coordinator Don Forbes said Chemung County did a study. It recommended some changes, but not consolidation.
A study in Cayuga County reported “not sure what to do.” And, a study done in Lake County concluded that “it would not make financial sense to consolidate the 16 fire departments within Lake County (Pennsylvania) into one county-wide district.”
Also, if the county consolidates and eliminates some stations, creating areas where the response distance is greater than ISO’s five-mile radius “commercial and residential insurance rates are going to go up, commercial more than residential, Forbes cautioned.
There are, maybe just three places in the county where they could consolidate and stay within ISO standards, he added.
Manpower is the biggest issue facing volunteer department today, Forbes noted. Most towns and villages couldn’t afford to have a paid staff, he said.
The issue of a county-wide fire district has been discussed, several times, by the county’s Fire Advisory Board, Forbes told the committee.
“That’s where this (discussion) should go. Not form another committee,” he said. “A lot of this has already been discussed.”
Castiglia suggested that further discussion be placed on the agenda for the board’s next meeting and the committee members will attend to facilitate more dialogue.
A lot of departments around the county use grant funds to help with purchases. However, a professional grant writer is needed to ensure that a grant application is even considered, Legislator Kline pointed out.
And, due to the higher number of training hours, it is becoming more difficult to get people to join volunteer departments, Forbes added.
“I volunteered because I wanted to do something for the community, not what was I going to get out of it,” Forbes said. “Today’s volunteers, they want something. They want to see what they’re getting for it. We need to look at what’s going to bring these people in and keep them in.”
Karasek said he was unsure what they could do in the face of state law.
You can change state law, Mulcahey said, adding, “But it’s not easy.”
Forbes penciled in the group as an agenda item at the upcoming Fire Advisory Board to continue the discussion and gain more feedback.