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Champion firefighters air grievances

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WEST CARTHAGE — Wearing red T-shirts with the department’s logo, nine members of the Champion Volunteer Fire Company Inc. with a lawyer in tow came before the Champion Town Council on Monday night.

David B. Garwood of Pinsky Law Group PLLC of Syracuse urged the town to change the way it disburses taxpayers’ money to the fire protection district.

“Taxes collected for fire protection are not distributed in accordance with the law,” Mr. Garwood said. He said about $116,000 is collected in taxes, yet only about $82,000 is paid out to the three departments — Champion, West Carthage and Copenhagen. According to Mr. Garwood, the remainder of the tax money is set aside and distributed only if and when the town sees fit.

“It is not your prerogative to keep a hold of money throughout the year,” the lawyer said. “You are not allowed by law to make a profit.” He noted that if the funds were in an account, they would be collecting interest.

Mr. Garwood claimed the fire company does not receive enough funds to be compliant with labor laws concerning safety, such as properly fitting air masks, radios for communication with interior firefighters and testing for hoses and ladders.

Fire Chief Louis J. Waite presented a map showing the division of the three departments within the fire protection district, noting the coverage area for each was not proportionate with the taxes collected and distributed.

“I thought we had a good working condition here,” Town Supervisor Terry L. Buckley said to the chief, noting the fire department heads were supposed to meet with the supervisor to discuss realignment of the boundaries. “You received more money than ever before over the past two years. We’ve paid off almost all of your truck. If you don’t want to continue, that’s fine. Next year it will be a flat fee — a lot less than this year.”

“We would like to get more of the piece of the pie,” Mr. Waite said. “We feel a little shorted on our end. We’d like to get our fair share.”

“Two-thirds of the time West Carthage shows up” for fire calls, Mr. Buckley told the fire chief. “You didn’t do yourself good tonight.”

Mr. Waite said he had not yet met with the other fire chiefs concerning the boundaries because of the upcoming Northern New York Firemen’s Convention hosted by the West Carthage Fire Department. He told the board it would have the report on the boundaries by next month’s meeting.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mr. Waite said he has presented the board with a budget amounting to $93,804, which included turnout gear that needs to be replaced every 10 years, hose and ladder testing and other operating costs. According to fire company secretary Jennifer Waite, the company received $35,000 — “only enough to pay the utilities; not enough for safety.”

Mr. Buckley said the budget was a “wish list” and the fire company was supposed to come before the board with individual requests, and there had not been any request for the radios mentioned by the lawyer.

“It would have been common courtesy to come to us first,” Mr. Buckley said of the fire company bringing a lawyer to the meeting. “They must have money to burn if they can pay that guy.”

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