TAGHKANIC — A revision to the Taghkanic Fire District boundaries could mean residents in the town served by EMS workers and firefighters in the Churchtown Fire District could see a change in who responds to some of their calls.
A public hearing drew a crowd of about 40 to the Taghkanic Town Board meeting at the Taghkanic Firehouse, 631 Old Route 82. The board meeting was moved to the fire station after the town hall filled to capacity.
If the plan moves forward, all lands east of the Taconic State Parkway in the town of Taghkanic currently handled by the Churchtown Fire Department would instead be under the coverage of the Taghkanic Fire Department. The Craryville Fire District boundary would remain unchanged.
For residents who attended the meeting, the biggest questions, other than the reason for the change, was what impact the decision would have on response times and what would the financial cost be to the Churchtown Fire Department. Crucial fire tax revenue in an era of declining population and increased fire costs for equipment and training, could affect the Churchtown Fire Department’s coffers.
“How many homes are you adding to that?” said Jenna Rossman, whose father is chief of the Churchtown Fire Department. “Are you going to be able to respond to one or more calls at a time?”
The topic of changing the district lines was brought up by the town board, not the fire department, Town Supervisor Ryan Skoda said. Taghkanic Fire Chief Bill Hilscher also confirmed that at the meeting.
To some in attendance, the possible decision to redistrict seemed like a solution without a problem.
“Normally, when major changes like this are proposed, it’s because there has been some sort of groundswell of public opinion or outcry or complaints,” said Sam Pratt, a resident of the Churchtown Fire District. “I guess what I am wondering is, what prompted this? Has there been some sort of massive wave of complaints that I don’t know about people saying in the Churchtown Fire District that they are not good enough? That they didn’t get to me on time?”
No residents had asked for the change or complained about response time or the departments, Skoda confirmed.
The district lines were formed in 1965, and did not take into account the location of the fire stations. The Churchtown Fire Department was founded in 1934 and the Taghkanic Fire Department was founded 10 years later to support Churchtown. In many cases, the two departments work together when responding to major calls and providing mutual aid.
The public hearing also seemed premature, as key information, such as the financial impact and number of homes affected, had not been adequately explored prior to the discussion, residents said.
“We did not want to base this decision on money,” Skoda said.
As new construction of homes become safer, fire departments are responding to fewer structure fires. The Churchtown Fire Department primarily responds to EMS and first responder calls and, unlike nearby departments, many of its members are trained and certified first responders. From 2015-2019, Churchtown answered 140 calls in the Taghkanic Fire Protection District. Eighty-nine calls, or about 65 percent, were EMS calls.
Some residents suggested at least keeping Churchtown EMS service in the proposed new Taghkanic Fire District.
Declining recruitment, aging membership and increased training costs have strapped many small volunteer fire departments.
“Proposed changes to the service area will significantly diminish the number of properties served by our company and greatly impact the tax revenues received and how we pay for our services,” said David Baylen, a Churchtown Fire Department member and a member of its board of directors.
“We have to work closer together,” Churchtown Fire Chief Robert Preusser said. “Changing that line does not do a thing but move money around to a different department when we made a commitment to buy new vehicles in 2014, thinking about the future.”
No decision was made on Monday. The town will continue discussions with the two fire departments and consider town comments before making any decisions. The next meeting will be held in September. If the board decides to go through with the change, the issue would be subject to a permissive referendum, which could be held on the date of the November general election.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.