When the Oakfield Fire Department signed up eight new members a couple of years ago and then came to the village with a request for $18,500 to buy gear for the volunteers, Mayor Jason Armbrewster started to rethink how fire services are funded in Oakfield.
"Eight new members, that should be great news," Armbrewster said. "But to us as a board, we’re like, 'How are we going to come up with $18,500?' That’s when I was like, 'Why should we be controlling that destiny? Why should new members be a hindrance to our fire department?' ”
The village held a public hearing last night -- more of a fact-finding and public feedback process -- to explore the idea of getting the village out of the fire department business and forming either a fire district or a fire protection district.
One village resident wanted to know if this idea would save residents money.
"It’s not about saving money," Armbrewster said. "It’s about providing a better service."
Trustee David Boyle pointed out the idea could help provide both better fire protection and better services through the village for residents. He said the village has already had to cut other services just to keep the fire department going.
Currently, the fire department is part of the village and the Town of Oakfield contracts with the department for fire protection outside the village, paying for it with its own fire district. The fire district is a separate tax for town residents. The town accounts for more than 50 percent of the fire department's budget.
If the village decided to go ahead with the idea, it would need to decide whether to set up a fire district, which would need to happen jointly with the town, because it would cover both the town and the village, or a fire protection district, which would cover only the village. Then both the town and the village would contract with the Oakfield Fire Department (or conceivably, some other department) for emergency services.
The struggles for the department now include replacing aging fire apparatus, maintaining the fire hall at a cost of $18,000 a year, and recruiting volunteers.
Ambrewster said in his talks with other departments where recruiting isn't as difficult, good equipment and recruiting seem to go hand-in-hand.
Dan Luker, a longtime member of the Oakfield department, said he had one simple question: Why?
He said his mind wasn't made up on the proposal, but he was skeptical of the need.
"I don’t see where changing the structure of raising taxes is going to change people wanting to volunteer," Luker said.
Trustee John Igoe said he is also on the fire department board and he isn't sure the fire department will survive under the current arrangement.
Igoe, who said he will abstain on any vote on the proposal, said insolvency in a couple of years is a real possibility.
"It comes to the point that maybe we have to look at shutting the doors because we don’t have any more money to keep the light and heat on because what we receive as a department isn't enough," Igoe said.
No decisions were reached at the meeting, but after two years of kicking the idea around, Armbrewster said a decision needs to be made soon.
"I either want to move ahead or say we’re not going to do this," Armbrewster said.
Photo: John Igoe and Jason Armbrewster.
UPDATE Sept. 26 5:15 p.m.: John Igoe's name was corrected in the story; it is not John Igor. The Batavian regrets the error.