MILTON – The Ballston Spa Fire Department’s budget presentation at the town of Milton’s May 30 board meeting outlined the department’s current state and its need for a revenue increase.
Accompanied by a room full of the department’s volunteers, Chief Bill Lewis gave the 30-minute presentation describing the department’s need for what he called a “shot in the arm” of funding to retain professional service and assure the protection of the department’s 80 active volunteers, who responded to more than 300 calls in the previous year, 140 of which were in the Milton fire protection district.
The Ballston Spa Fire Department (BSFD) coverage area consists of the village of Ballston Spa, as well as parts of the towns of Milton and Ballston. BSFD is made up of two companies, Eagle Matt Lee Fire Company and Union Fire Company.
Chief Lewis’ highly detailed presentation explained the need for the tax increase, which would be implemented through yearly fire protection rate increases spaced out over a 10-year period. The increase would help finance the purchase of two new vehicles, repairs needed at the department’s two firehouses, mandatory equipment replacements and more.
“We want to provide the residents and business owners in our fire protection district the most reliable and highly trained fire service available,” Lewis told the board. “We currently have concerns with being able to do that because of financial constraints.”
Of the department’s nine first response vehicles, two are more than 30 years old and five vehicles are 25 years old, which puts them “at their maximum [lifespans],” according to Lewis.
Two of the trucks are in immediate need of replacement and the initial proposed rate increase of 18 cents for next year would aid in making payments for those vehicles. Each company would receive one of the two new trucks.
The costs were presented as:
BSFD protects more than $513 million of property in Milton.
Milton residents within the BSFD coverage area currently pay 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value toward fire protection. A home worth $200,000 pays $68 in fire protection tax annually. The average cost of fire protection for districts is roughly 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to Chief Lewis.
The department’s goal is to raise the fire protection tax to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value by the year 2028, increasing the tax rate gradually over time.
Under this rate, the owner of a home worth $200,000 would have a new fire protection tax rate of $200 annually, opposed to the $68 they currently pay.
“We know it’s a hardship for the community, adding additional taxes in a year where [Milton and the village of Ballston Spa] are raising taxes and now the fire department is looking for more money,” Lewis told The Ballston Journal after the meeting that. “We know it’s a burden but we’re doing a stepped approach … which is budgetable over a 10-year period.”
The town of Ballston signed a new contract with BSFD in recent years and granted the $1 per $1,000 rate that the department is currently seeking in Milton.
Residents of Milton’s Fire District 2, which is north of Geyser road, currently pay $1.20 per $1,000 in fire protection taxes, which is nearly four times the amount currently paid by residents in the southern end of town.
During the public comment session that followed the fire department’s presentation, local developer Frank Rossi Jr. criticized the board’s approach to the Boyhaven property deal compared to BSFD’s openness in their proposal.
“[BSFD is] basically crawling to the town saying please give us a rate increase,” Rossi said, “and we’re here saying we have $1.25 million to spend on [the Boyhaven] property, [BSFD] are looking for $1.1 million for two vehicles and we’re making them go through hoops. They’re answering every question without us even asking them to. Questions are being asked literally every meeting about the cost of [Boyhaven] … and nobody seems to have the answers.”
The town of Milton has until October 2018 to agree upon and vote through a fire protection contract with BSFD.
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