NORTH CREEK - After six months of contention over a new contract that's twice the length of last year's, Johnsburg town fire chiefs got their 2010 contract extended this past week, about a month before town funding is due.
Fire chiefs from six hamlets within Johnsburg were present at a meeting of the Johnsburg Town Board June 21, and Fred Comstock, Garnet Lake fire chief, called the extension a victory, though approving a new contract isn't any simpler now.
Though the contract has been worked on for months now, town board member Ronald Vanselow asked what harm could be done by extending the older, shorter contract until the end of 2011.
Board member Eugene Arsenault said, "Sure, we can stand our ground and force it down their throats and everyone's going to be angry," but echoed Vanselow's sentiment. "We've had the same contract for so many years, how can a few more months hurt?"
Comstock said it's been stressful with July approaching so quickly, which is when the fire companies get town funding. Four companies are currently paying on trucks, and without the money, they wouldn't be able to make payments.
The new contract that the fire chiefs are unhappy with is 16 paragraphs long, compared to the eight-paragraph document they've been accustomed to for years.
Erika Sellar Ryan, an attorney with Jordan & Kelly, who worked on the contract with the town, said her firm represents a number of municipalities, and the contract before the fire chiefs is in line with recommendations from the state.
Sellar Ryan said careful accounting of monies received from the public and how they're spent is as important as liability protection, so those in charge of oversight can do their due diligence and explain any apparent discrepancies with taxpayer funds.
A particular sticking point among the fire chiefs is accounting for money raised through donations. The fire departments are private companies, said John Donohue, the North River fire chief who's been the spokesperson to the board for the chiefs. No other private company that deals with the town has to report spending except for town money, he said, and donations collected "standing in the road with a bucket in our hand" shouldn't be subject to town scrutiny.
Johnsburg Town Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said accounting for that money could help the town allocate money better. If a large donation is given to a department, said Goodspeed, the town should be made aware that the fire company's not hurting for money during that funding cycle, and that money can be used to help out elsewhere.
The chiefs proposed that they will sign their old contract, with differences to dates and money, "which is less than we got last year," said Donohue. The extended contract will expire December of this year, and fire the chiefs will begin negotiations for the 2012 contract this summer.