October 18, 2021

Homer officials continue to explore at joint fire district option

‘Keep a rolling ball moving’

S. N. Briere/Staff Reporter

Jay Riley, a Homer firefighter and Cortland County fire instructor, inspects gear Monday on one of the Homer fire engines. The Homer Fire Department is looking at whether the Homer village, town and towns of Summerhill and Scott should create a joint fire district.

A joint fire district covering Homer, Scott and Summerhill could be created by 2021, said a consultant on the process, but the three communities have many steps to take to get there.

“One of the things I like to do is keep a rolling ball moving,” said lawyer Mark Butler, who gave a presentation Monday evening to Homer town and village officials on forming a joint re district. “I’ve done this in as few as six weeks, I don’t recommend that. It’s just not a good way of doing it. There are too many questions that don’t get asked, that’s not fair to the public or to the boards involved.”

The Homer Fire Department and village of Homer have been considering creating a joint fire district with the three towns as the village looks at the cost of owning the department, one of the village’s biggest expenses, said Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe.

The village owns the fire department; the towns of Homer, Scott and Summerhill contract with the department for coverage.

Switching to one joint district would mean the liability, operations and cost would all fall to the district and Board of Commissioners, rather than the village. Its costs would be paid by property tax levies in the communities, rather than by negotiated contracts.

Establishing a district would reduce the cost and liability for village taxpayers. The district would give residents of the towns a greater voice in how the department operates and what it costs.

Butler said the communities would each have to:

  • Vote to dissolve their existing fire district agreements — the Homer Fire District, the Scott Fire Protection District and the Summerhill Fire Protection District.
  • Vote to join the new fire district.

The resolutions, if adopted after public hearings, would be subject to a permissive referendum, Butler said.

Further, the Board of Fire Commissioners would need to create and adopt a dissolution plan following a public hearing.

However, the most important part of the process is the budget, Butler said. “The biggest thing that’s going to take time is the development of the initial budget because the first thing all of your resident and taxpayers are going to be concerned bout is what question? How much?”

“You need to have an absolutely realistic budget in order to be able to operate the fire service and on the other hand you need to be able to justify that budget to the public,” Butler said.

Cortlandville Fire Commissioner Kevin Whitney said Scott Roman does that department’s budget and would be willing to help Homer.

McCabe has already expressed his support for the concept.

“This would give everybody a voice and they would share in the expense,” he said in September.

Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said Monday after the meeting that he’s open to the idea,but“I see a lot of work in front of us.”

Representatives for Summerhill and Scott did not attend the meeting. McCabe said the two towns want to contract with the village again for three years.

However, Scott Supervisor Kevin Fitch said in September he was concerned about what the cost would be and how the concept would work.