The Johnsburg fire district contract was turned down twice during the town board's Feb. 7 meeting.
The town of Johnsburg inched closer to filling the void left by the defunct Wevertown Volunteer Fire Company on Tuesday, June 5 when the Town Board agreed conceptually to a redrawn coverage map agreed upon by chiefs of the town’s six fire companies.
The revised coverage areas would have volunteer companies from North Creek, Riverside and Johnsburg each absorbing a portion of what was Wevertown’s coverage area.
The conceptual agreement came after considerable discussion. Councilman Peter Olesheski asked if it was really necessary for the North Creek company to undertake more coverage area. He said doing so could mean opening up the contract for revision. Olesheski said his concern had nothing to do with money.
“I want the best coverage and I’m not willing to compromise,” he said. “I just want to make sure we do this right and have adequate coverage.”
Town Supervisor Ron Vanselow said that the chiefs believe the proposed plan is the way to provide the best coverage.
“I have confidence in the chiefs,” Vanselow said.
John Donohue, chief of the North River company, said all six chiefs gathered and discussed the options.
“We all felt this was the best way,” Donohue said.
With a general agreement regarding the proposed coverage map, Vanselow offered some insight into what he termed “potential red flags.” Vanselow said the first issue was determining whether there are any state regulations that govern the dissolution of the Wevertown company. Vanselow said he’s emailed the town attorney asking him to look into that issue and report back.
Second, Vanselow recounted an exchange he had with Amy Clute, Self-Insurance Coordinator for Warren County. Because the county’s self-insurance worker’s compensation program is “experience rated,” Vanselow said, Clute told him that the rates established through the county’s experience with the Wevertown Fire Company could carry over to whoever takes over the fire company’s coverage area and could remain in effect for seven years.
Vanselow said historically the town has covered those costs and that he wouldn’t want to see the worker’s compensation rates for the companies taking over the former Wevertown coverage area be negatively impacted. That prompted Olesheski to ask whether the other volunteer companies really wanted to take over the new territory knowing the potential problems.
“Are you sure you want to accept the risk?” Olesheski asked.
Dave Filkins, assistant chief for the Riverside department, asked for clarification on what was being proposed Tuesday evening.
“Aren’t we just drawing our lines in the sand, so to speak?” Filkins asked. “We’re not discussing money or contracts or anything?”
Vanselow agreed with Filkins. Tuesday’s discussion was just about the coverage areas and discussions about contracts and money would come later.
“We can move forward conceptually while we answer a couple more questions,” Vanselow said. “Once we get some answers, we can adopt (the coverage map) formally.”
Vanselow termed the conceptual agreement on the coverage map as a starting point.
“We can work from the map forward to a contract and coverage agreement,” he said.
At one point, the discussion became a bit testy when Jarrett Brown, chief of the now-defunct Wevertown Fire Company, shared with the audience his vision of what should happen with the assets of the fire company. It left many in the audience scratching their heads.
Brown said that the remaining four members of the fire company would donate the company’s equipment — radios, turn-out gear, etc. — to other fire companies. But the group of four would retain ownership of the firehouse property “because it’s incorporated,” he said
Vanselow took exception to Brown’s interpretation of the situation.
“I’m neither happy nor satisfied with that answer,” Vanselow said, referring to the claim the group would retain ownership of the former fire company’s property. Vanselow resisted debating the matter with Brown and said instead he’d prefer to defer to the attorneys to work out those details.
Ultimately the Town Board voted unanimously to approve in concept the revised coverage map and agreed to work to find answers to the many issues yet to be resolved.
The Johnsburg Town Board next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 19 at Tannery Pond Community Center.