Knox fire truck sale halted by tie vote

KNOX — Election results were split down the middle after 30 residents voted Tuesday on the sale of a local fire truck, defeating a resolution by fire commissioners meant to start a truck-rotation plan.

Frank Fuss, the district secretary and chairman of the election, estimated that half of the voters were not members of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company.

A small number of company members were vocally opposed to the measure, the chairman of the fire commissioners, Dana Sherman, said Wednesday, but he was reluctant to draw a connection with the vote. He hadn’t yet spoken with the district’s lawyer about the results. Since first becoming involved in the district in the early 1970s, Sherman can’t remember a tie vote; once, a truck purchase was voted down, he said.

“That would have given me a clear idea that taxpayers don’t want it,” Sherman said. “The 15-15, I just don’t know what to do with it.”

The turnout for electing a fire commissioner, Fuss said, is typically between 18 and 24 people, most of whom are associated with the fire company. The rural town has 1,843 registered voters, according to the 2013 affiliation list from the Albany County Board of Elections; the Knox Fire District covers all but a small southwestern corner of the town that is part of the Berne district.

The special election held Tuesday evening was a referendum required when the fire commissioners voted to sell equipment valued at more than $50,000. Their resolution put the potential sale price of the truck at $180,000, which would go toward a new, more versatile one with the same water capacity.

“The negative votes, they could be because they don’t see the need to replace this truck, and then they could be looking at the new truck, even though that’s not part of the vote,” said Sherman.

Daytime responses to fire calls can be thin for a volunteer company that has seen its membership decline. Commissioners have put together designs over two years for a custom-made truck, Sherman said. It would hold the same amount of water, but more people, so they can respond more efficiently during the daytime. Fuss estimated its cost between $500,000 and $700,000.

If the district waits to sell, Fuss told The Enterprise before the election, the truck’s value would be diminished. The 21-year plan commissioners drafted — selling a 21-year-old truck every seven years — would be thrown off. The district now has two trucks from the year 2000, one from 2007, and a smaller truck from 2011.

The defeated resolution can be put up for election again or revised, as long as its legal notice appears 27 to 34 days beforehand, said Bradley M. Pinsky of The Pinsky Law Group in Syracuse, which represents fire districts and fire departments across New York.

In general elections, if a voter claims to be registered to vote but isn’t named in the registration list checked by an election inspector, affidavit ballots are used. Registration is later verified in order for the affidavits to count. Fire districts don’t have affidavit ballots provided in law, but, Pinsky said, they should still use them, calling ineligible voting in fire district elections “a very common problem.”

The county board of elections has no involvement with the fire district elections. Fuss said Knox’s election inspectors have a compact disc of the voter registration list provided by the board, but it’s never been referred to since the inspectors, who work the polls in the general elections, as well, know each of the voters personally.

“I’m sure they all were [eligible]” Fuss said. “We had neither of the election inspectors challenge anyone. Normally we don’t check. Normally they know the people.”

This was the first truck sale Robert Deitz remembers going to a vote since he became a fire commissioner two decades ago. Since the commissioners wanted with this election to separate the two 2000 trucks, they chose to sell the one that could bring the highest return and offset the cost of the new truck.

“If we can’t sell this truck, we can’t buy the new one,” said Sherman. “I’m counting on the money from this truck.”

Sherman said the brokers who will give them a good price for the 3,000-gallon truck — in demand for districts where sources of water are more scarce — could buy elsewhere while the Knox sale is postponed.

“I think we can go back and we can publish more about why we want to get rid of the truck and why we want to get rid of that truck to buy this truck,” Sherman said of moving forward.

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