Roscoe FD makes final case
By Jeanne Sager
ROSCOE There’s nothing left to do but vote on it.
Since its first proposal to build a new firehouse was shot down by voters, the Roscoe Fire District Board of Commissioners has been meeting regularly to revamp its plans and make sure the public is on board.
Public information sessions in particular have been held once a month since June, but Thursday night was the last one scheduled before the Sept. 30 vote.
To answer the public’s concerns, commissioners have reduced the once $3.25 million project to $2.45 million. Of that, $600,000 will be grant funded while the remaining $1.85 million is on the table for voters to approve.
That cut, Commissioner Don Walters told residents Thursday, came by reducing the size of the proposed facility to 11,000 square feet. Felled by the axe were a large community meeting room and kitchen space, services resident Lynn Wachter pondered the community would miss during a question and answer period. If the fire district sells its two current buildings which it intends to do to pay down the debt service on the new firehouse Wachter asked where community groups are supposed to meet and hold fundraising breakfasts.
To that, Walters said simply, “I don’t know.”
But, he continued, the small stipend provided by the Town of Rockland to keep open the former Rockland Firehouse which is currently rented out for those functions doesn’t cover its actual operating costs.
In fact, said Board Chair Pete Passaro, it costs $1,300 more a month than the fire district takes in.
“It’s the taxpayers’ burden,” Passaro said. “You people are actually paying to keep this open.”
“We’re paying,” Walters said, reminding gathered residents that the commissioners who developed the firehouse plan are residents too.
The original proposal would have increased his fire taxes by 125 percent, he said.
“It was a lot of money, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he explained.
In addition to bringing the numbers down, Walters said the commissioners have been investigating questions brought to them by the public in the past few months.
A look at installing a geothermal system and solar energy panels has revealed both are possible, but costly options. The proposed firehouse will have a southern-facing roof, perfect for solar panels although the pre-fabricated steel building may decrease some of the efficacy of a solar system. Whether geothermal is feasible would be subject to some drill tests on the site
Walters has applications for several grants that could cover at least a portion of going green, but each application requires a “yes” vote before the commissioners can submit the request.
“It’s something we can explore further,” Walters promised.
Resident Joyce Conroy was encouraged to hear the green options she said the thought of savings down the road could make this more “palatable” to voters.
“If a yes vote comes of all of this,” Walters said, “I can guarantee you we’ll go forward with all avenues for grants and funding.
“We will exhaust every avenue the state and federal government offer,” he continued. “We hired a grant writer, and we will go forward as far as going green to cut the burden on the taxpayer.”
Walters also promised resident Tula Brown a vocal opponent of the first proposal that the sale of the two current buildings will indeed go toward reducing the cost burden of the taxpayers for the new firehouse. That, he said, can be put directly on the referendum which voters will have to approve before either building can be sold.
“That’s good enough for me,” Brown replied. She also got an answer to a question she said she’s long wondered about.
“How do you get your operating expenses outside of taxes?” she asked. “Does the state allow you money? Does the federal government allow you money?”
The answer was simple no.
“Your taxes pay for electric in the buildings, fuel to run the trucks…,” Walters said, listing the other main operating expenses. “The remainder of the operating expenses is done with fundraisers.”
“There is no money trickling down from the state, federal or county government?” Brown asked. “I always wondered.”
“No,” Walters said.
He ended the meeting with a reminder that the vote on September 30 has been moved to the Rockland Firehouse on Old Route 17 to accommodate the women who will be manning the polls during the extended hours, from noon to 9 p.m. If there’s a positive outcome, the commissioners will meet in public session the following evening, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. at the Roscoe Fire Station, to start the process.
“The building is needed, and it’s needed very badly,” he said in closing. “Double stacking our trucks is not a safe way to operate a fire station.”
He got a second from resident Betty Grossman, who pointed to the lack of youth getting involved in any volunteer organization in town.
“If the conditions are so bad, you’re not going to encourage the young people to join,” she said. “The people who work the fire department are volunteers. You should make it pleasant to volunteer.
“You don’t want to not have fire protection because you don’t have the firemen,” she warned.