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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 24, 2011
After controversy and tied vote
By Anne Hayden
NORTH BETHLEHEM A controversial $315,000 bond vote for the North Bethlehem Fire District this month ended in a tie after one vote had to be thrown out.
The North Bethlehem Fire District covers Bethlehem and portions of Guilderland and New Scotland.
The bond, according to Fire Chief Paul Fuino, would pay for six acres of land behind the firehouse. The land would be used to build a storage unit.
“We need to replace a garage that is falling apart. We had to rent a tractor trailer just to store some of our equipment,” Fuino told The Enterprise this week.
About 3,000 residents live in the fire district and 95 showed up to vote on the bond, but only 94 of the votes counted, resulting in a 47-to-47 tie.
“We brought the ballot in question to a board of elections’ attorney and he said it wasn’t valid; it was checked right in the middle of ‘yes’ and ‘no,’” Fuino said.
The fire chief said he thought that most of the objections were the result of confusion on the part of the fire district residents.
Fire districts are units of government led by an elected board, which have the power to levy taxes. Fire district votes typically have low turn-outs. By law, districts are required to notify residents of upcoming votes by posting a legal notice in a newspaper. Fuino said one was posted in The Spotlight.
“We didn’t do a door-to-door notification, so people thought we were doing something on the sly,” said Fuino. The fire district put a legal notice in the town’s official newspaper, which is all it is required to do before a referendum.
“We hold budget meetings and no one comes; we send out notices for fire-truck bonds and no one says anything, so we assumed we were doing enough for this particular vote,” Fuino said. However, news of the bond began circulating, and residents in the district coverage area were misinformed, he said.
People assumed their taxes would go up if the bond passed, which Fuino said was not the case. There is a house on the property that the district plans to buy as part of the proposition, and Fuino said, the house and a parcel of the land would be sold by the district after the purchase.
“We were planning to put the money from the sale of the house up against the bond, so tax rates would not be affected at all,” Fuino said.
Other residents were confused about the difference between the fire department and the fire district, which are two separate entities.
“Some people asked why we would go door-to-door doing fund-raising and then take out a loan,” said Fuino. He explained that fund-raising is conducted by the fire department, and used by the fire department only. The fire district is fully funded by tax dollars, and does not accept donations.
The district has organized two public hearings, for March 8 and March 29, and scheduled another referendum for April 12. Fuino said an informational flyer is being developed, which will be distributed to the district residents.
In addition, the district has lowered the amount of the bond, from $315,000 to $265,000.
“We have funds for buying equipment, and we try to save money annually in case something comes up. We decided to take $50,000 from our building fund to put toward the property purchase,” Fuino said.