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Public packs merger hearing

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DEXTER — More than 120 residents of the town of Brownville gathered Monday at the Pillar Point Fire Hall for the last public hearing before the Aug. 31 vote on the merger of Dexter and Brownville fire departments.

Fire officials are projecting a 75 percent hike in the fire district tax rate — to roughly $1 per $1,000 of assessed value from the roughly 60 cents town residents pay now — but claimed it would get lower in subsequent years.

In other words, owners of a property assessed at $200,000 would be paying roughly $80 more a year for fire protection.

“That’s 20 cents (more) per day for fire protection,” said Dexter Fire Chief Gerald A. Kostyk.

Mr. Kostyk said the joint district would save residents money in the long run, with savings expected in insurance, legal fees, gas, maintenance, building operations and equipment by getting rid of “duplications.”

The district will be run by three to seven fire commissioners, who will be appointed by the Brownville Town Council based on the recommendations from the fire departments and the village governments in the first year. After the first year — or as soon as in December if the joint district is formed by Oct. 1 — residents of the new district would elect fire commissioners.

The top vote-getter would serve seven years, the second six years, and so on.

“These elected commissioners will give people more control over how their money is spent,” Mr. Kostyk said.

The commissioners also will have the final say on which fire halls the district will be operating, Mr. Kostyk said in response to questions regarding the possibility of Pillar Point losing its fire hall.

Keith W. Alexander, president of the Dexter Volunteer Fire Department, said he does not believe the Pillar Point Fire Hall should be shut down because it has a “very strong strategic value.”

The possibility of a merger was first brought up in 2007 due to a lack of volunteer firefighters and increasing costs of operation.

Brownville Fire Chief Stephen L. Mott said his department has lost many firefighters since he joined 30 years ago because more people are working two jobs and do not have the time to take all the state-mandated training and raise funds on top of that.

“Our recruitment numbers are kind of climbing, but that could change tomorrow,” said Craig Tucker, Dexter Fire Department treasurer. “If the districts merge, fundraising goes away.”

Mr. Tucker said it comes down to paying more taxes now or risk losing fire protection entirely.

“I don’t want my taxes to go up any more than anyone else does,” said Patrick Gaines, who owns property on Pillar Point. “But no protection? I don’t want that, either.”

Melba J. Ellingsworth, Dexter, who almost lost her home in a 1969 house fire, agreed.

“If it hadn’t been for the Fire Department, how would it still be there?” she said.

The vote on the proposed merger will be limited to Brownville property owners. To be eligible to vote, residents must have their names on the most recent property assessment rolls or present a deed at the polls.

Instead of combining the votes, the proposed merger would require a majority approval from each of the three taxing jurisdictions — the villages of Dexter and Brownville and the town of Brownville excluding the villages. If property owners in even one of the three jurisdictions vote down the proposal, the fire districts cannot merge, said Brownville Town Supervisor Leo K. Thomson.

Those with properties in more than one district may vote in each taxing jurisdiction. However, those with more than one property in one district cannot cast more than one vote.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at Brownville Town Hall, 16431 Star School House Road.

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