Roslyn Fire Companies sue Village of Roslyn over payment

Roslyn Fire Companies sue Village of Roslyn over payment
Roslyn Highlands Fire Department responding to a car fire in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Ryder)

The Village of Roslyn has not provided a complete payment for 2022 services or a 2023 contract to the Roslyn Highlands Fire Department and Roslyn Rescue Fire Department, according to fire department officials.

A letter from the two fire companies was distributed to Village of Roslyn residents last week stating that the village had not paid the fire companies’ fees for fire services in 2022 and did not provide a 2023 contract for the fire companies.

Roslyn Highlands Fire Department and Roslyn Rescue Fire Department are the two fire companies that service Roslyn. They engage in a joint contract to offer fire services to the Roslyn villages.

Roslyn Highlands President James McCann said the Village of Roslyn has not paid its allocated fees for 2022 in total. He estimated the village is short about $300,000 in its payment, but McCann said he did not have the exact figures at the time he spoke with Blank Slate.

“However, the decision by your Village officials to refuse payment to our Fire District is causing severe distress to the department’s ability to operate,” the Roslyn Fire Companies’ letter said. “Without this critical funding, our firefighters will not be able to access essential equipment, such as new protective gear and firefighting apparatus, nor will they be able to afford the necessary training and education required to perform their jobs.”

Roslyn Mayor John Durkin released a statement Monday calling the issue “only a money matter.”

He called the lawsuit brought forth by the fire companies a “mistake.”

“We will vigorously defend our position because we feel we have an obligation to the taxpayers of this Village to shield them from such rapacious activity,” Durkin said in his letter.

McCann said the missing funds and lack of agreement with the Village of Roslyn have greatly impacted the membership of the Roslyn Highlands Fire Department because they feel as if they are not appreciated.

He said this will also affect the department’s process of repairs and its infrastructure, which he said they have held off from proceeding with to keep costs lower.

Roslyn Rescue President Salvatore Mirra Jr. said that finances have been tight for the department yet they have not compromised their services to their municipalities.

“This is all to protect our people,” McCann said.

McCann and Mirra said the fire companies have tried to work on finding a better agreement with the village, but that the Village of Roslyn has not provided any other solutions.

The letter distributed by the fire companies encourages residents to reach out to Village of Roslyn officials to reconsider their actions and allocate the necessary funds to the fire companies.

Mirra and McCann said the fire companies have filed against the Village of Roslyn. Mirra said the purpose of the lawsuit is to get the remaining funds from the village that it has not paid to the fire companies.

McCann said that the fire companies derive their income from assessed evaluations of the municipalities they serve. He said this is how a vast majority of fire companies determine their budgets and allocated fees for services.

Durkin said that in 2021 the county changed its assessment protocols, which increased the village’s payment to the fire companies by 48.2%.

He said that in the years from 2017-2021, the Roslyn Fire Companies comprised about 9% to 10% of the village’s total budget. In 2022, under the new county assessment procedures used by the fire companies, fire expenses became 14% of the village’s budget.

Durkin said there had been “no material changes” to the village under this new assessment, only “technical changes of categorizing properties by the county.”

“We are no larger or more difficult to protect from fire than we were in 2020,” Durkin said in his letter.

McCann said there has been an increase in development in Roslyn with more residences for the fire companies to service in the past five to seven years.

In 2020, Roslyn paid for 15.06% of the fire companies’ budget. In 2021, Roslyn paid for 21.37% of their budget, according to Durkin.

“While the Fire Companies have been able to drastically increase their budgets year after year, 4% in 2022 and 6% in 2023, the Village, pursuant to New York State Law, is required to adhere to the 2% Tax Cap law,” Durkin said in his letter. “If we adhere to sound fiscal management, are we wrong to ask the Fire Companies to do the same?”

McCann said that historically the fire department budget has increased by about 2% each year, but that it grew by 6% in 2023. He said this is due to rising costs which he has no control over.

He pointed out that rising costs for equipment and fire department infrastructure have made it difficult for the departments to keep costs down.

“To outfit a firefighter today is astronomically expensive,” McCann said. “It’s getting harder each year to outfit our people. It’s getting harder to get volunteers”

Durkin said that in 2021 the Village anticipated the total costs for fire services to be $558,956 but actually the figure amounted to $800,000.

He said when the village called to discuss the matters and come up with a solution, the fire companies refused to talk about it with the village.

“They are adamant that they will not work out a fair solution despite the fact that they know that Roslyn’s proportionate share of the Fire Companies’ budget has been mistakenly set at an amount far in excess from the previous years,” Durkin said in his letter.

McCann and Mirra said the fire companies have tried to find a solution with the village but that the village has not presented any ideas for a solution.

Durkin said the village paid the fire companies in 2022 the amount due from the prior year plus 4% to cover increased costs. He said the village did the same this year but with the 6% increase.

“We are committed to funding the Fire Companies and in no way have any issues with their services or the dedication of the brave and hardworking volunteers who make up the heart and soul of the organization,” Durkin said in his letter.

McCann said the fire companies will continue to offer services to the Village of Roslyn, but that a clause in their contract allows them to opt out of it. It is recommended to opt-out by July 1.

“I am not opposed to doing that,” McCann said.

McCann said that they have a moral obligation to continue to protect the people, but he is in the midst of considering whether their fire services will continue for the Village of Roslyn without a 2023 contract and a lapse in payment from the village.

Mirra said that ending their contract would be a last-resort action. He said that Roslyn Rescue would make a joint decision with Roslyn Highlands on their course of action.

McCann said the fire companies and the Village will be meeting for nonbinding mediation at the end of the month to discuss the matters.

“We’re trying to be reasonable about all of this,” McCann said. “I’m not here to fight with the residents, I’m not here to fight with anybody, I’m just trying to make our fire company whole.”

Durkin said the matters will be discussed further at the next board of trustees meeting at 7 p.m. on June 20. He invited residents to attend in order to ask questions and get further information.

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