NORTH CREEK - A controversial proposed expansion of Johnsburg Emergency Medical Squad space at the town owned Boy Scout building in Sodom was unanimously struck-down April 7 by a reluctant town board following intense public outcry against the issue.
Johnsburg EMS had petitioned the town board seeking a 12 foot expansion of the squad living space to allow for enlarged sleeping and record storage capacity, according to Johnsburg EMS President Mark Bergman.
"I don't think there is any dispute that space is tight up there," said Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed. "We received so many comments from the public objecting to the proposal that we have to look closely at this."
The issue had been tabled by the town board for over a month, allowing the town to assess public sentiment.
At previous meetings dozens of angry citizens blasted the EMS proposal, stating the building was public space, often used for private parties and gatherings at no-cost to town residents.
The April 7 meeting featured a similar vibe, including four letters addressed to the town - all of which opposed the expansion.
"What sticks out to me is the sense of entitlement here," Bergman said. "Why does the town need to support private parties?"
Bergman said that the expansion would be a key tool in recruiting more squad volunteers, therefore reducing expenses by limiting the amount of hours the paid squad-members work.
Currently, there are seven paid squad members and 31 volunteers, Bergman said.
"It concerns me that the town favors parties over emergency medical service," Bergman said. "We ask a lot of our volunteers and we should at least provide a warm and comfortable space."
Bergman's assessment resulted in rebuttal from town board members.
"The fact that this town has a couple of buildings for residents to use free of charge is something to be proud of," Councilman Ron Vanselow said. "These aren't just parties, these are celebrations of milestones."
Councilman Eugene Asenault furthered Vanselow's argument.
"It's not about the parties themselves, it's the resident's ability to have a party," he said. "I am surprised you are even trying to move forward with this considering the public push-back you have gotten."
The Boy Scout building is often used by residents who can't afford the rental cost of the Tannery Pond Community Center, officials said.
The proposed expansion would have reduced the public space by nearly one-third, according to documents included within the proposal.
Bergman said the expansion would have been at no-cost to the town and that it would be only temporary, as the squad is currently seeking funding for a new facility to be constructed in approximately 3 years.
The fact that there was little, if any claim that EMS service would be changed by the expansion was the final death-blow to the proposal.
"What I am hearing is that if we don't go through with this we won't see a decrease in services, but a decrease in comfort," Goodspeed said.
The current EMS living space is comprised of one 7 x 8 foot bedroom and a 8 x 10 foot recreational space. Some squad members said that they have resorted to sleeping on stretchers and in the ambulance during overnight shifts because of the small confines.
But the assertion that the space would be better used by the EMS didn't sit well with the board.
"It is not a luxury for free use of a public building," Goodspeed said. "It is after all the taxpayer's building."