Although Village of Oakfield and Town of Oakfield governmental leaders are keeping their constituents informed of the status of their dispute over fire protection payments, they have yet to navigate a path to the negotiating table.
And, if judging by the latest information flyer that was hand-delivered to village residents last week, the village board has drawn a line in the sand before any talks will take place:
- The Town pays the entire amount due to the Village for Fire Protection Services provided last year.
- The Town signs the contract for 2021-2022 fire services (current year) or a multi-year agreement.
- All parties jointly explore options to ensure this disagreement and withholding of payment does not happen again.
The village board claims the town owes $78,644.71 for fire protection services during the 2020-21 fiscal year, and is asking for full payment by Nov. 30 or Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department personnel will not be dispatched to fires or emergencies in the town, including the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District.
Other than an exchange of bulletins and website postings, Village Mayor David Boyle and Town Supervisor Matt Martin said there has been no verbal communication between the two boards.
The village owns fire trucks and equipment, and runs the fire service through the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, which owns the building on Albert Street.
Contacted on Wednesday, Martin pointed to information on the town website that spells out the town’s stance.
According to its Statement on Fire Agreement, dated Oct. 11, the town would like to see:
- A three-year contract.
- A service contract only – not to include capital -- because the village owns all fire equipment.
The town’s statement also indicates that its clerk sent a check for $39,322.36 – half of the above amount – to the village, but it has not been cashed.
Both Boyle and Martin have said the matter is in the hands of their attorneys, but the town’s latest statement indicates it has yet to be served with any legal action.
On Wednesday, Boyle said he was waiting for a return call from the village attorney.
The municipalities’ latest communications are as follows:
THE VILLAGE’S STANCE (as of Oct. 4)
1. The Town Supervisor and Board is refusing to pay for the Fire Protection Services provided for June 1st, 2020 through May 31st, 2021, this is despite the Town’s 2021 tax bill to Town residents included a charge for fire protection based on the 2020/2021 Fire Protection Contract. This money was collected as Town taxes in January of 2021. The Town is responsible for creating the situation we are involved with at this time.
2. The Town Supervisor has repeatedly stated that there is not a signed contract and the Town does not need to pay for services---despite the fact that the Town accepted fire protection services throughout the contract term while never indicating that the services were not wanted or needed.
3. The contract between the Village, Fire Department, and Town has been an annual agreement for many years. This included an understanding between the Village and Town for payment of the contract after the Town collected its taxes (6 months after the contract begins). The Town has collected the money to pay the contract but refuses to abide by law which says it must provide fire protection and payout the money collected for this purpose.
4. Village residents pay double the tax rate for fire protection compared to Town residents. The current rate for Village taxpayers is $1.62 per thousand of assessed value. Why should the Village residents be forced to pay more? Also, why is the Town so insistent that the Village Taxpayers take over more of the Town’s obligation? Any shifting of cost to Village Taxpayers is very burdensome to them.
5. Representatives from the Village (one of which is a fireman), Fire Department, and Town met as a committee to set the fire budget. It is disappointing and possibly illegal that the Town Supervisor and Board is withholding payment to the Village for the 2020-2021 contract in order to dictate what funds they will pay going forward. Keep in mind fire protection services to the Town continued to be provided over this time period, and that all structure fires occurred in the Town- not the Village. In fact, of 10 structure fires, all were in the town.
6. Legally, a municipality cannot provide a free service. The Town has refused to sign a contract for the 2020-2021 term and for 2021-2022 fire protection. The Village cannot continue to provide a service with no indication that it will be paid for the services already provided, nor for the services going forward.
7. Because of the Town’s refusal to pay for Fire Protection for over 15 months, the Village has communicated that fire services provided to the Town will cease on November 30th, 2021 unless payment for the 2020-2021 contract is made and a signed agreement for 2021-2022 is agreed upon by all parties.
THE TOWN’S STANCE (as of Oct. 11)
At this time, the Town has not been served with any legal action.
For five years, the Town of Oakfield has been trying to work with the Village of Oakfield to come to a fair and equitable Fire Agreement.
The Town Board disagrees with the content of the letters being circulated (by the Village Board), including the $1.62 being allocated to Fire Protection to the Village residents. The total taxable value of the Village is $52,040,355 (for bills sent out in June 2021).
Based on the Mayor’s statement that $1.62 of the village rate is for fire, they raised $84,305.38 for Fire Service within the village alone.
The Village Budget for 2021-22 for Fire is $95,000. Of that $95K, $10,320 is earmarked to go into a truck reserve. If you take that out of the $95K, you are left with $84,680 for a total operating budget. So, 58 percent (Town) is $49,126.
So, if the Village collected $84,680 and the Town owes them $49,126, then the total budget would be $133,806. What are they doing with the other $39K (actually $38,806) they collected if they did in fact collect it?
This should make the Village fire tax rate 0.89 cents per $1,000 (assessed value).
We also disagree with there being 10 structure fires within the Town of Oakfield. When a fire happens within our boundaries, both the Assessor and Code Enforcement Officer is contacted. Neither have been contacted for structure fires with(in) the Town.
Finally, in an attempt to sit at the table with the Village and negotiate an agreement, the Town sent the Village a check for $39,322.36 (half of the $78,644.71 the Town collected). The Village still has the check, refuses to cash it and will not entertain a discussion.