CHILSON - Concerned with increased taxes, some residents are calling for an end to the Chilson Volunteer Fire Department.
"With the arrival of the 2009 Ticonderoga town tax bills many have expressed surprise and dismay at the unprecedented 70 percent increase leveled for the Chilson fire department," Margaret Scuderi wrote to the Times of Ti.
Scuderi has called a meeting to discuss the tax hike and the fire department's future on Friday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Chilson Community Building.
Tax rates in the 2009 town budget are $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed value in the Ticonderoga fire district and $10.40 in the Chilson fire district.
The higher tax rate in Chilson can be attributed to a $16,900 increase in the Chilson fire district budget.
Fire district budgets are set by the local board of fire commissioners and submitted to the town board for inclusion in the town budget. Town trustees have no say on fire district spending.
Fred Hunsdon, Chilson fire chief, said the fire district increase is needed to meet state mandates requiring certification of equipment.
While the department needs no new equipment, it must pay an independent firm to certify all its equipment is safe and in working order, Hunsdon explained.
Hunsdon said he has not been invited to the Feb. 20 meeting, but plans to attend and explain the tax increase.
The department received a big boost a year ago, Hunsdon said, when it got a $163,000 Federal Emergency Management Administration grant.
"We saved the fire district a lot of money by getting that grant," he said.
The money was used to purchase equipment to outfit 10 firefighters, Scott air packs, a heat imaging camera, a chemical gas detector, jaws of life extraction equipment and a ventilation system to clear smoke of carbon monoxide from buildings.
A separate $10,000 grant allowed the purchase of portable generators. Those can be used during power outages to assist residents with medical conditions that need electricity and to power the Chilson Community Center. The community center is owned by the fire department and serves as an emergency shelter.
Scuderi claims Chilson residents have two options for the fire company - keep it as is or merge with the Ticonderoga Fire Department.
"Either way, we will continue to have a fire house, fire equipment and a trained crew to respond," Scuderi wrote. "It appears that any fire would be responded to and taken care of in much the same way as it is presently."
Hunsdon disagrees, noting he has discussed the issue with Ticonderoga firefighters.
"If Ti took over they wouldn't want our trucks because they're out of date," he said. "They would probably need to put a big pumper and tanker up here.
"They'd have to build a new fire house because their trucks wouldn't fit in our current fire house," he continued. "They may even have to buy property, because the current fire house is so close to wetlands the APA (Adirondack Park Agency) probably wouldn't let someone build on the site today. It could cost millions."
Scuderi pointed to merger of the Ironville and Crown Point fire districts. In that case the Ironville fire house was closed and all calls are responded to from Crown Point.
If the Chilson fire house closes, Hunsdon said, residents will suffer. He pointed to a house fire Feb. 4 that destroyed a garage. Chilson firefighters were able to save the home.
"If the firemen were coming from Ticonderoga they wouldn't have made it in time," Hunsdon said. "It would have taken them at least 15 minutes longer to get there (than Chilson firefighter) and that would have been the difference."
Hunsdon believes the majority of Chilson residents support the local fire company.
Formed in 1960, the Chilson squad covers a 30-square-mile area that includes Putts Pond and a portion of Eagle Lake. The fire district includes large tracts of state-owned property that have required Chilson firefighters to battle forest fires in the past.
The company responds to emergency calls, but does much more.
Each October firefighters go house-to-house in the community giving away smoke detectors and batteries while delivering fire safety information. The company also assists during weather emergencies, cleaning downed trees from road ways and bringing generators to home-bound residents.