The Johnsburg fire district contract was turned down twice during the town board's Feb. 7 meeting.
The Johnsburg fire district departments still have no contract after the chiefs all gathered for a second public meeting to pass their new contract.
The town of Johnsburg introduced a new fire contract last summer after many years with the same two-page agreement. The new document was full of specific clauses demanding responses to emergencies the fire department volunteers weren't equipped for that the chiefs found dissatisfying. They wanted to return to their traditional contract, but legal advice to the town said the new contract was standard and comparable to other locales. A temporary contract was enacted last summer.
So the fire departments got a lawyer to protect their interests, and the town and fire district lawyers hammered out a contract that should have been agreeable to both parties.
But the town board didn't agree, at least not the majority. Kate Nightingale didn't make the meeting, so there were four board members to put to vote.
After the public hearing raised questions about a late payment charge of 5.5 percent to the town and what the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law cited in the contract is, board member Pete Olesheski tried to force immediate action with authoritative motions to close the hearing and pass the contract. But fellow councilmen Arnold Stevens and Gene Arsenault couldn't agree with the contract as it was presented. Without a fifth member, Town Supervisor Ron Vanselow and Olesheski's aye votes made a deadlock — twice as Vanselow tried to pass the contract later in the meeting.
The late payment fee was negotiable, said the board, though it seems to show undue distrust for a small-town fire district agreement.
“It's not a dealbreaker,” said Stevens. “It's not a hill I'm willing to die on.”
Vanselow throughout discussion on the fire contract alluded to a problem department in the district, and said the contract needed half-steps for accountability. It shouldn't be a make-or-break contract, he said, there should be a process for airing grievances before a contract is severed.
North River Fire Chief John Donahue, who's headed the conversation with the town board for the fire district, said a chief steers their department as best he can.
“It's all snap decisions. It's all two o'clock in the morning decisions,” said Donahue.
The lack of an approved contract got to the fire chiefs, and some were markedly upset after the second failure of the meeting.
“There's absolutely no way they're going to get their payment in March,” said Olesheski, who apologized to the firefighters for the delays.
“Every time we come to the town board it's a new issue, it's a new issue,” said Donahue. “Now we've got five more issues.”
The contract identifies the payment due date as March 15, 2011, a figure pointed out as already late by an audience member, and probably indicative of a poorly-crafted contract. The individual departments are due $38,912.65 in March 2012, and $40,000 in March 2013 under the contract.
In other town news:
•Vanselow said the town has identified several new spots to mine sand for the roads, and the town engineer found that approval for a mining permit should only take about four months. This should take care of the looming sand reserve issue.
•FrontStreet's lawyers asked the town to approve their water lines, already OK'd by Johnsburg's lawyer and engineer, and to release some of their construction bonding.
•The Tannery Pond Community Center needs a new compressor for its HVAC system at a cost of $2,500 to $2,800. The board approved the cost.
•The Bluegrass Festival use of the Ski Bowl Park was approved for 2012.
•Highway Superintendent Dan Hitchcock got early approval for posting weight limits on the roads for the freeze/thaw spring cycle.
•Denise Conti and Anne Morse were reappointed to the Library Board of Trustees.
•Water rents were raised by $115 for two buildings that have an apartment that have so far not been charged for.