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Numbers Are Key
To Callicoon FD

By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON — November 23, 2004 – Two weeks after the monthly meeting of the Callicoon Fire District Board of Commissioners, the subject of one vote had members facing off Thursday evening.
Minutes into the special meeting, Commissioner Tom Snyder questioned a report in the Democrat that said the board had voted at its November 4 meeting to go to the public with a referendum.
Snyder said his vote was to talk to architects about renovating the former Mills Garage for $500,000 to make a new firehouse – but it didn’t include asking the public to fund that renovation.
“I didn’t vote on a referendum, nobody voted on a referendum,” Snyder said. “We couldn’t possibly go and ask the public to vote on a referendum when we don’t know how much we need.”
Commissioners Doug Santoro and Marc Sturdevant responded that they were under the impression that the moves to contact architects and to approach the public were part of one vote.
Both said that was why they cast their assenting votes – votes matched by Snyder, Commissioner Bob DeCristofaro and Chairman Craig Stewart, who later resigned his position on the board.
“Doug’s got numbers,” Sturdevant said, referring to estimates Santoro had gathered from local contractors when the board first began discussing the purchase of the garage.
Those numbers equal about $387,700 in estimates on everything from kitchen equipment to blacktopping the parking lot at the garage, Santoro said, and although they’re now months old, they’re within range.
“This is a researched number,” he said. “The only way there would be to come up with an exact number is to go to contractors with an architect’s plan.”
Santoro said this is what the board has faced several times in the months since voting to acquire Mills Garage and making the purchase after voters cast their approval in June.
It is going to cost the district to hire an architect. But without a cohesive plan, it’s going to cost the district even more in the long run, Santoro said.
“It doesn’t make any sense to do things two, three and four times,” he said. “This is the vicious cycle we’re up against.”
Santoro said the estimates he gathered are stale, but they do represent an “economical, all-inclusive renovation” that’s half the cost architect Bob Mitchell initially told the board this project would cost.
Board Chairman Charlie Mills, who was attending his first meeting since temporarily taking over Stewart’s seat, said he’d spoken with DeCristofaro, who didn’t seem to want to talk to an architect again.
Mills said three other local departments have contacted architects before going forward with a new firehouse.
“They all ended up with prevailing wage – not too many problems with the building inspector once the architect’s plans were arrived on,” Mills said, asking for board input.
“I think in our best interests, we need to consider one,” Sturdevant said, “whoever that may be.”
Santoro said that contractors he spoke with were wary of even looking at the job without some sort of plan.
“One gave it right back to me and said, ‘I need specs,’” Santoro said. “Another said, ‘I’ll take it, but I wanna manage it for you.’”
Santoro said Town of Delaware Building Inspector Bill Buckmaster said at least some of the projects outlined by the board needed architectural plans.
When Snyder suggested an architect only need look at those particular portions of the renovation, Sturdevant interjected that the plans needed to be done for the entire project.
“It’s gotta be from soup to nuts,” he said.
The board agreed to meet with John Horton, an architect from Wurtsboro who will walk through the garage with the commissioners on Dec. 9.
Mitchell was contacted but said he was not interested in the project – although the commissioners discussed requesting some of the work done by Mitchell’s firm to save money.
When DeCristofaro arrived, he said he was hoping Mitchell could be of help because the “first thing this new guy’s going to have do is pull out a tape measure.”
DeCristofaro said his Nov. 4 motion was about contacting architects only – not about a referendum.
Snyder then noted that in the ensuing discussion period, Stewart had mentioned going out for a referendum.
Snyder switched the discussion back to the district’s finances – his wife, outgoing secretary/treasurer Lorraine Snyder, is struggling on such a low budget, he said.
“This is something you’ll need to look at,” Snyder said. “She’s running out of money and she’s got the December bills to pay yet, and the January bills – you don’t get money from the town until February.”
Fire Chief Willy Maxwell spoke for other commissioners who he said are well aware of the problems.
“These guys are pounding their heads against the wall,” Maxwell said. “No one wants to raise taxes . . . the school’s going up . . . but the fire department doesn’t stay the same.”
Maxwell said his equipment budget has remained the same for seven or eight years – in an effort to keep taxes stable.
But things are going to get harder, Snyder said.
“Next year you’re going to be running two buildings, insuring two buildings, heating two buildings,” he said. “You’ve got to look at it – you’re going to be in an even worse position next year at this time.”
“We have looked at it,” Santoro responded. “That’s why we can’t finance the renovation with the amount we have in savings.
“Plus,” Santoro added, “costs are going up – we need to come up with a new number for the fire tax.”
The discussion prompted comments from former commissioner and long-time firefighter Frank Hahn who said he’s been hearing a lot from concerned citizens.
“Before any numbers are thrown out to the public, you should think hard about this,” he said. “You’re rattling a lot of feathers.”
Mills’ response to Hahn’s comments was to admonish the board about talking over the matter in any negative light.
“We have to be very careful in the public position we are in that we don’t get negative comments in the paper,” Mills said. “We really have to keep everything on a positive, because when we get to the point where we want to go out for a bond issue, they should be positives, not estimates.”
Mills referred to his days on the local school board when board comments were reviewed before being printed in the press.
Santoro reiterated his impression that the board had already come up with a solid number – $500,000, of which $125,000 is already set aside in the district’s capital fund.
“I was under the impression that Bob’s motion included the $500,000 referendum, and I know I wasn’t the only one who thought so,” he said.
The meeting ended with the commissioners in disagreement on the motion but a clear plan to move forward.
The board will meet Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. at the firehouse for its regular monthly meeting, then meet the following Thursday with Horton to walk through the garage.

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