December 4, 2021

Homer fire contract with Summerhill set to expire Jan. 1

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

The Homer Fire Department is shown Saturday. Following a dispute over coverage costs, Summerhill has until midnight of Jan. 1 if it is to renew its fire contract with the village.

Barring last-minute negotiations, the Homer Fire Department will not cover Summerhill starting midnight Friday because of a contract dispute.

The decision was made public last week at the Homer Village Board of Trustees meeting after more than a year spent negotiating fire rates, Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe said Thursday.

“So the Homer Fire Department will no longer be contracting with Summerhill,” he said. “They’ll have to get their contract somewhere else.”

Who would respond to a Summerhill emergency remains unclear.

Homer’s fire rate in 2019 was 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to village documents. The 2020 rate had not been established.

The village has been planning to raise its rate since 2019, McCabe said, because the Homer Fire Department — which covers the village, the towns of Homer, Scott and Summerhill — has a lower rate than nearby municipalities.

The goal, McCabe said, was to bring Homer’s fire rate closer to $1 per $1,000 assessed property value.

Summerhill was budgeted to pay $40,000 to Homer for fire coverage in 2020, according to village documents. That rate was scheduled to go up to $56,499 in 2021.

Summerhill officials asked McCabe in 2019 what that rate would look like for 2021 because the village planned to increase the cost of coverage over three years, McCabe said.

“My understanding is that the town board of Summerhill had met and a price was agreed to but in print the $ were not the same,” Summerhill Town Supervisor Charles Ripley said in a Nov. 16 email to Homer Village Clerk Dan Egnor. “The decision was if your village is not willing to fix the contract then we are not willing to sign off.”

Ripley could not be reached last week for further details.

McCabe said the service would cost somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000, but did not give a specific number.

Misunderstandings on price though became clear when the village agreed upon the 2021 rate but Summerhill was figuring the price to be about $50,000, McCabe said. Summerhill, he said, took the projected amount as final.

McCabe said Summerhill could pay the $40,000 for 2020 but would need to increase its pay for Homer’s coverage or lose coverage.

Members from the village Board of Trustees reached out several times in 2020 to get responses on the issue and try to figure out a deal but did not get any response.

“They were supposed to come to us when they had issues,” Deputy Mayor Patrick Clune said. “They didn’t. We reached out to them multiple times.”

It was only at the end of 2020 when rates were set that responses from Summerhill started coming back.

Village Clerk Dan Egnor said Summerhill could still be covered by the Homer Fire Department for 2021 because the contract is prepared and would just need to be signed before Jan. 1 but the likelihood of that is in doubt.

Homer Fire Department has been covering Summerhill since before 1974 when current Fire Chief Mahlon Irish joined the department, he said.

Should the contract expire without an agreement, Summerhill would have to sign a contract with either Groton, McLean, Locke, Moravia or Sempronius — all municipalities with fire departments nearby.