Jeanne Sager | Democrat
IF THE TAXPAYERS approve in a May 12 vote, the shuttered Kirchner’s Chevrolet dealership will be the future home of the Roscoe Fire Department.
Making case for Kirchners
By Jeanne Sager
ROSCOE They’re cautious.
They’re asking questions.
But the majority of comments from residents who filled the Rockland Firehall on Tuesday night to hear the plans for purchasing the recently closed Kirchner Chevrolet building to house a new firehouse were prefaced with “this sounds like a good idea.”
That included residents who’d criticized the previous two plans for a new firehouse the building of a new structure on property on Gulf Road that was shot down twice by voters.
The new plan, up to voters to decide on May 12, will cost $1.25 million.
Part of that will be paid for by a $600,000 grant from the state, plus another $50,000 in reserve funds.
The rest is what the building committee has asked taxpayers to take on, a total that will increase taxes to district residents by $55 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year (a figure that comes straight from Roscoe Central School Business Official Lisa Failla).
The fee structure will start with a one-time $130 increase per $100,000 of assessed valuation with a decrease to the $55 figure each year once the grant monies arrive from the state and can be used to pay down the fire district’s bond.
The tax figure will decrease even further down the line, according to Building Committee Chair Pete DeVantier, when the fire district sells its current structures.
Those sales are a promise, DeVantier made clear when asked point blank by members of the audience if there was any chance the fire district would suddenly change its mind.
“We have people [that] are interested in them, and I’m sure we could put it out and see if we got other bids,” DeVantier said.
But that’s jumping the gun. That won’t happen until a new firehouse is in place.
As it stands, the plan is to purchase the Kirchner Chevrolet and Kirchner Chrysler buildings for $1 million.
Appraisals on the buildings put their cost at $1.24 million and $1.25 million, but the dealership’s owners brought the idea to the fire district and have agreed to hold to the $1 million figure (and hold the option open until after the vote).
The Chevrolet dealership will require limited renovations to the tune of around $250,000 including widening of the doors, energy improvements and paving of the lot.
What will happen with the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep dealership is still up in the air. The fire district aims to buy it, with two paths open.
The Kirchner family has been given the option of leasing it back from the district, keeping open that portion of the business and providing the fire district with rental income. In that case, monies from the rental would be put back into the Rockland Firehouse, which is currently used as a community space with frequent meetings of the senior citizens group.
If the Kirchners opt against the rental option, the Chrysler building would become a handicapped-accessible home for community groups, as well as a meeting place for the Rockland Fire Company ,with the Rockland Firehouse sold to offset the cost of the new firehouse project.
DeVantier said the district will also approach the ambulance corps, offering an option of moving into the fire complex and renting a space (again, providing income to the fire district). That’s not on the table yet, but DeVantier said he wants the ambulance corps to know it’s open should the volunteers be looking to decrease the costs of maintaining their own building.
Topping citizens’ concerns were finance both the cost to the taxpayers and the economic impact and flooding.
“This seems like a really good idea,” said resident Seth Sternberg. “But . . . we are permanently taking a big chunk of commercial property from the heart of downtown Roscoe.”
It’s true, DeVantier admitted, but with the firehouse in the center of town, the town has a say in how a prime piece of the business district will look for years to come a guarantee that doesn’t exist with an unknown buyer. And the firehouse plans to offer part of its lot to the business community to enhance parking in downtown.
Resident Betty Grossman said she’s heard talk that the Kirchners have been approached by someone who wanted to put a strip mall in the space.
“What kind of stores would they be putting in it that wouldn’t hurt the stores on Stewart Avenue?” she noted.
“You need to look out for the people already in town paying taxes,” concurred Bill Hendrickson.
The mention of taxes was atop resident Lilly Constant’s concerns. Based on the current figures (not including the sale of the buildings), Constant said the project would put Roscoe-Rockland Fire District’s taxes atop any fire district in the county.
“That’s because we’re the smallest in Sullivan County,” responded Fire Commissioner Gary Bury. “We have a smaller tax base, but we have to have the same equipment. We go into the same burning buildings as Monticello.”
Bury also spoke to concerns about flooding at the Kirchner building.
“After the last two floods, we actually evacuated people to the firehouse and then had to evacuate them again,” he said. “A lot of the town [including] Kirchner’s went back to business, but we couldn’t. We were without communications and equipment for several days.”
Because the Kirchner spot is significantly higher and has better drainage than the current firehouse on Union Street, Bury said the fire companies will fare better in that space.
Bury reiterated a list of problems with the current building, chief among them the one door which every truck must exit, one at a time.
Moving to Kirchner’s will improve response time, said members of the building committee. It will save lives.
But all that will have to be weighed against the cost for voters.
“This is pocketbook smart,” DeVantier said, reminding the public he, too, is a taxpayer. “I think we absolutely got our homework done.”
Voters will make the final choice on May 12 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Rockland Fire Hall.