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October 22, 2021 - 8:27am

Fire chief's suggestion of mediation may be the answer to ending stalemate between town, village boards

oakfield-volunteer-fire-department-logo.jpgLeave it to a first responder to jump into the fray and attempt to put out the “fire” that has embroiled the Oakfield village and town boards over the financial payment plan for fire protection for their residents.

On Thursday night, Sean Downing, chief of the Oakfield Volunteer Fire Department, said that he is working toward a meeting of town, village and fire department officials, with OVFD attorney Mark Butler of Williamsville acting as a mediator.

“It’s time to get this thing resolved and move forward,” Downing said. “The fire department is stuck in the middle here.”

Downing said citizens are upset over the impasse and several of them voiced their displeasure at a recent town board meeting.

After that, the fire chief said he suggested having representatives of the village and town sit down with fire department personnel and Butler.

“I’m drafting a letter to send to our attorney for review and for the town (Supervisor Matt Martin) and the village (Mayor David Boyle) to sign (indicating) that they will come to the meeting,” Downing said. “The letter also reads that they will agree to what our attorney recommends.”

Downing said he is proposing a few dates for the meeting in an attempt to find one that accommodates everyone involved.

Martin, responding to an email from The Batavian, reported that “a tentative meeting is in the works.”

Boyle, speaking by telephone yesterday, also acknowledged that “a meeting is being set up by the fire chief.”

The dispute centers upon how much the town should pay for fire protection services offered by the village, which owns the fire department trucks and equipment. The building itself, on Albert Street, is owned by the fire department.

The village is threatening legal action against the town for failure to pay $78,644.71 owed for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Boyle said the village will shut off fire and emergency response to the town (including the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District) if the bill isn’t paid by Nov. 30 – action that Downing said could be supported by the OVFD.

Martin said the town wants to renegotiate the longstanding agreement, and sent the village a check for half of that amount in an attempt to sit down and come up with a new three-year pact that removes charges to the town for capital expenses, such as trucks and equipment.

“The town would like a three-year agreement and a service contract only,” Martin wrote. “When we say service contract, we mean that the capital portion not be included as that is owned by the village.”

When asked if the town considered paying the full amount owed prior to renegotiation, Martin responded, “We have done this in the past and have gotten nowhere.”

“Once the village gets their money, they do not contact us again until it is time to discuss the fire budget again the next year,” he said. “We have asked for five years to work this out and they continue to ignore our request.”

He said the town board favors a service agreement for fire protection, similar to the one it has with the village for snowplowing.

Boyle’s response made it clear that he doesn’t believe that is fair.

“That’s ludicrous to me,” he said, reiterating that all necessary vehicles are dispatched and equipment used when firefighters respond to town emergencies.

The mayor, however, did say he was encouraged by the chance to express the village’s stance in mediation.

“There are issues to iron out, for sure,” he said. “I hope there’s a sense of give-and-take in the discussions, and not just demands.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s a no-win situation at this point. We’re going to have to come to some kind of compromise. Both parties deserve a contract that supports the fire department but also is fiscally conservative and responsible.”

Previously: Oakfield fire protection dispute update: Village wants full payment before negotiating; Town has sent half

Previously: O-A school superintendent hoping for quick resolution to village, town fire protection squabble

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