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Town of Porter: Disagreement with Ransomville Fire District turns to shouting match

Sat, Oct 26th 2019 07:00 am

Staff Reports

Financial disagreements between the Town of Porter and the Ransomville Fire District continue following an acrimonious meeting with district commissioners Tuesday at the Ransomville Volunteer Fire Co.

“This is not a public hearing,” began Rich Wade, president of the Ransomville Fire District board of commissioners. “We, as a commission, are going to make a budget that is going to go to the Town of Porter. You may speak if you like; if it becomes a circus or out of hand, I’m going to shut it down, because it is not a hearing.”

At issue is what is now a roughly $80,000 funding difference in what is provided by Porter to the Ransomville Fire District Commission – overseers of the Ransomville Volunteer Fire Co.’s annual budget – and that provided to the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Company, which is funded directly by the town.

Approved several years ago by the Porter Town Board, the funding allocation was intended to assist the Ransomville Fire District address an earlier litigation issue, now settled, that stemmed from a fire company accident.

The problem is, the Ransomville Fire District Commission elected to retain the $80,000 total ($100,000 initially, now adjusted for inflation) in its annual budget request to the town over the past two years, and utilize it toward the fire company’s annual operating budget.

Porter Town Supervisor John “Duffy” Johnston, who attended the Oct. 15 meeting with Deputy Supervisor Jeff Baker, Councilman Larry White and town staffers, including Lisa Hastings, a former Ransomville Fire District treasurer, questioned the commission members on that issue last week.

“That was two years ago,” Johnston said of the funding disparity in last week’s Sentinel. “They have $220,000 that they’re banking.

On Tuesday, Johnston, Baker, White, Hastings, Porter Councilman Tim Adamson, and town staffers handling bookkeeping matters, visited with the commission and discussions continued.

It didn’t go well.

“So, anybody got something to say?” Wade began.

“Well, do you have a budget we can look at?” Johnston asked. He told commission members a follow-up budget has yet to be presented to the town from the one presented earlier.

“The final budget we enact tonight, you will get,” Wade responded.

Ransomville Fire District Commission members said the discrepancies raised by the town on Oct. 15 have been “caught and corrected.” Total appropriations to be included are the tax warrants for the towns of Porter, Lewiston and Wilson that are served by Ransomville Fire, plus administrative costs. Budget reserves were not included among the total 2020 Ransomville Fire District budget summary that totaled $385,289.69 – $261,078 of which is funded by the Town of Porter annual tax apportionment.

Baker asked if the Ransomville Fire Commissioners had discussed the aforementioned tax levy that was imposed by the town to help Ransomville Fire fund the litigation.

“We have gone over this since it got paid off. We can keep this $100,000 and put it towards our expenses,” Wade said. “You people on the board might not agree, that’s fine. But by law we can keep it.”

“Now Mr. Johnston, I rebuffed you (on earlier request to meet and discuss the matter). I didn’t get back to you, right?” Wade asked.

“Correct,” Johnston said.

“Why didn’t I get back to back to you?” Wade asked.

“I don’t know,” Johnston said.

“Duffy, you might be the town supervisor. …” Wade said.

“I’m also a taxpayer,” Johnston noted.

“What gives you the special right to talk to this commission?” Wade asked. “As a taxpayer, you have a right to meet with us every second Tuesday” at meetings.

“You have no power over this board,” Wade continued, as tensions began to escalate.

“I don’t think he has any power,” Baker said, as he attempted to soften tensions and return to the issue at hand – the extra funding.

Johnston again asked why the Porter Town Board, which approves the Ransomville Fire District, was not provided the courtesy of a response.

“Because I talked to our attorney (later identified as attorney Mark Butler who handled fire company matters). He asked ‘Who is this guy?’ ” Wade said.

He continued, “What you’re telling me is that all you individuals sitting out there would call me and I would have to make a special meeting with the commission, with all of (you)?”

Baker interjected, “You don’t feel as an elected person (you have to inform) the community?”

“You don’t get it Jeff,” Wade responded. “This is what’s going to happen tonight: We’re going to adopt a budget; we’re going to present it to the Town Board. Then it’s in your hands.”

Attendee Ted Hogan asked Wade how much money the fire district could raise off the tax assessment.

“I don’t know,” Wade responded. “All I know is that, over this lawsuit, we have the right to keep that $100,000. … And if you want to fight the state of New York or the comptroller’s office, be my guest.”

“So the lawyer’s telling you, you can keep the money?” Johnston asked.

“That’s right,” Wade said.

“So you’re going to screw the people who actually bailed you out?” Baker asked.

In response, Wade told the Porter Town Board and all others in attendance, “I just hope and pray that none of you people out there ever need the ambulance, the fire company. …”

With that remark, tensions heightened dramatically.

“That’s a threat; that’s a threat; you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Johnston, Baker and Adamson shouted to the Fire District Commission.

As tensions escalated further, Johnston, attempting to calm things down, told Wade and the district commissioners, “If the deal’s done and you’re going to collect that extra money, and the town collects that money (from taxpayers) … then it’s not a threat. But we’ll see how you guys get the money. Our tax collector signs the bills.”

Soon after, Adamson interjected.

“I just want to say something: I’m absolutely disgusted that you made that (remark),” he told Wade. “I take it as a threat. For you being the commissioner of a meeting, I’ve never seen such a rinky-dink meeting run in my life. … In the Youngstown (Fire Co.) Board, they’re good, good people; they never talk to people like that.”

Soon after, Johnston, joined by Baker and Adamson, stormed out of the session. Hastings and the town’s two bookkeepers remained.

Wade, joined by the fire commission, went on to explain how the extra funding has enabled the Ransomville Fire District to provide for its operations, including maintenance, improvements and acquisitions for the Ransomville Volunteer Fire Company over the years.

The 2020 Ransomville Fire District budget, totaling the aforementioned $385,289.69, with the $261,078 tax apportionment to the Town of Porter, went on to be approved and is now on file with the Town of Porter Clerk’s Office.

The Ransomville Fire District Commission will meet next at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Ransomville firehall.

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