GFD moves forward despite infraction

— From the Guilderland Fire Department

Renovating and expanding the current firehouse, at 2303 Western Ave., to the tune of $3.9 million, will enhance the facility’s safety and functionality, according to David Messercola, chairman of the board of fire commissioners. The bond was approved by voters, 45 to 32.

GUILDERLAND – A town resident is challenging a Guilderland Fire Department bond vote that last month approved a $3.9 million expansion project, but the department maintains the infraction doesn’t merit a re-vote.

The 15-year bond, approved by a vote of 45 to 32 on Aug. 27, will cost residents within the boundaries of the district an estimated 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation; a homeowner with a median-priced home of $246,500 would pay $69.93 per year, for 15 years, for a total of $1,049.

The firehouse — at 2303 Western Ave. — is outdated and too small to meet the community’s needs, making the project —  which will add a decontamination room, extra parking, two additional bays, and extra office and storage space — necessary, according to David Messercola, chairman of the board of Fire Commissioners.

Linda Chaffee, however, has asked that the Guilderland Fire District Board of Commissioners declare the vote “null and void,” because, she asserts, the district did not comply with Article 11 under the Consolidated Laws of the State of New York.

The law states that a fire district secretary must provide notice of an upcoming hearing or election to be posted on the website of any town within the boundaries of the district, and that the notice must be posted at least 15 days before the hearing or election.

Chaffee wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor on Sept. 5, declaring that she thought the vote was “probably” legal, but that it was “possibly not” ethical.

After doing some research, Chaffee decided the vote wasn’t legal, and wrote a letter to Messercola, as well as Supervisor Kenneth Runion, and Rosemary Centi, the town clerk, quoting the law and stating that the district’s violation was not posting a notice on Guilderland’s town website before each of the three public hearings that were held leading up to the bond vote.

Centi told The Enterprise that she had not received notices about the public hearings, but had received a notice about the vote itself, which she posted to the website.

Messercola told The Enterprise, before the referendum, that the hearings had not been well-attended — the first with no attendees at all, the second with only one department-member attendee, and the third with four attendees.

After the vote, Messercola said that, while he was glad the community had supported the project, he was not surprised.

“Any time you ask the community to spend additional tax money, there are always some that will not be in favor,” he said. “The majority did favor it, so we’re very happy.”

Chaffee is one resident who is not in favor, and she believes that the vote was “hidden with the intent of circumventing those of us who will be paying the bills.” She voted against the bond.

At a meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners on Tuesday, Messercola told The Enterprise this week, it was decided that the district had complied enough with the state law that a court would not uphold a challenge to the bond vote.

“It was a minor infraction,” he said, “and we are moving forward.”

The infraction, said Messercola, was the result of miscommunication on the part of the district, because it failed to specify to Centi that it wanted the notices posted to the website.

William Young, of Young, Fenton, Kelsey, and Brown, P.C., counsel to the fire district, said, “It was our feeling there was substantial compliance.”

There was notice provided in the form of legal notices in The Enterprise, as well as a notice of the referendum posted to the bulletin board at the town hall, he said.

“We don’t think there is enough infraction that a court would force a revote,” Young said. He said that Chaffee could decide to take it to the court level if she wanted to.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford to hire an attorney to take it to court,” Chaffee told The Enterprise this week.

Messercola said he was insulted by Chaffee’s implication that the district was trying to hide the vote.

“If she had a problem with it, she should have reached out to the board and educated herself about the process,” he said. “Her accusation is downright offensive.”

“I’m not trying to get them in trouble,” said Chaffee. “I’m just trying to get them to be open and honest.”

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