There has been some confusion about the East Pembroke Fire Department’s upcoming vote for a plan to help retain volunteers, and after attempting to confirm the related tax rate increase, it’s not difficult to understand why.
The vote is set for 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the fire hall, 8655 Barrett Drive, Batavia.
Late Monday, officials said the confirmed rate per thousand of property tax increase is 44 cents.
District Chairman James Gayton said that the fire department was required to only post the resolution, which does not include information about the tax rate. It states details related to the service award program for volunteer firefighters and is recapped in full below.
However, property owners have questioned — via online posts and by reaching out to The Batavian — how approval of this resolution will affect their property taxes. Apparently, one such citizen distributed a letter citing an inflated and incorrect tax rate increase, and information was mailed to residents encouraging folks to vote no -- with the appearance of being signed by Gayton, though he had nothing to do with the mailer.
There was a public information session about the resolution, but there was nothing online available from that session pertaining to the tax rate, attorney Bradley Pinsky said. The district wasn’t required to do so, and therefore only posted the resolution itself, he said.
The Batavian attempted to obtain the tax rate increase and received conflicting information. Gayton explained that other factors go into the final tax numbers and therefore seemed reluctant to provide a final tax rate of cents per $1,000 assessed value increase.
He referred The Batavian to the fire district’s attorney, Bradley Pinsky of Syracuse, whose calculations first came up with a 96-cent per $1,000 assessed value increase. So for a home assessed at $100,000, that would mean an increase of $96.25 a year for the first five years of this approved resolution. It is to decrease significantly after those first five years, Gayton said.
Gayton also does not believe the increase will be that high, as he initially estimated it to be 80 cents and then came in with a 50-cent per $1,000 figure when pressed for a definite number this past weekend.
“That number is based on 100 percent people (qualifying for retirement benefits), which won’t happen,” he said Monday.
After further calculations later Monday evening, since Pinsky apparently didn't realize that all of the three district towns of Batavia, Alabama and Pembroke should have been included, he came up with a 44-cent "confirmed max" increase per $1,000 assessed value. That would mean an increase of $44 on a home assessed at $100,000.
This number was tabulated as of about 8 p.m. Monday, on the eve of the vote. The Batavian isn't sure why the information wasn't readily available since an information session had already happened, and district residents had been encouraged to ask questions for several days prior.
An online post related to the vote claimed that the information was fully provided in a legal notice. Below is the legal notice sent to The Batavian:
NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that pursuant to a resolution of the Board of Fire Commissioners, a special election of the qualified voters of the East Pembroke Fire District in the towns of Pembroke, Batavia and Alabama, County of Genesee, State of New York, will be held on the 29th day of August, 2023 between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., held at 8655 Barrett Drive, Batavia NY 14020 to vote on whether to approve the following resolution adopted by at least sixty percent of the Board of Fire Commissioners:
RESOLUTION FOR ADOPTION OF DEFINED BENEFIT, SERVICE AWARD PROGRAM
Whether to adopt a defined benefit service award plan within the East Pembroke Fire District for the volunteer firefighters of the fire company of the East Pembroke Fire District, being the East Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., pursuant to General Municipal Law Sections 216 and 219, with an estimated annual cost of the program being $118,514.00 for the first five (5) years, with the annual cost thereafter being $27,706, and an estimated annual administration fee of $3,648 dollars ($3,000 plus $18/participant).
The annual amount of the contribution made on behalf of each participant credited with a year of fire service shall be twenty ($20.00) dollars per month of service for a maximum monthly entitlement benefit of four hundred ($400.00) dollars.
Benefits shall be accruable, per year of active service limited to twenty (20) years. Participants will vest a non-forfeitable right to a service award after five (5) years of service. Each qualified participant shall receive credit for up to five (5) qualified years of active firefighting service prior to the establishment of the Service Award Program, known as a buyback service credit and the cost of this buy back shall be amortized over a five (5) year period, the cost stated above.
The entitlement age shall be sixty-five (65). The program will be administered by the East Pembroke Fire District and will take effect on the first day of January, 2024.
All persons registered to vote in the district and residing in the district for at least thirty days prior to the day of the vote may vote in such special election.
This is the resolution and does not say anything about the actual tax rate impact to property owners. A previous story about the retirement benefits of this resolution ran in The Batavian earlier this month.