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Brocton Fire Dept. wants free use of school exercise room

April 14, 2016
By Amanda Dedie ( , Westfield Republican

BROCTON - The Brocton Fire Department's request of the Brocton Board of Education may not "work out."

Recently, the Brocton Fire Department, made up of volunteers who do not get paid for their time or service, asked that they be allowed to use the exercise facilities for free at Brocton Central School District, which charges individuals a membership fee to use the pool and gym after school hours. BFD wants to use it for staff development, as members have to stay physically fit to work toward the health and wellness of the community when they're going on emergency calls.

The board spent a good portion of a recent meeting time debating the pros and cons of the situation, and whether the volunteer's services merited free use of school district facilities.

Superintendent Jason Delcamp shared his concerns over the situation - namely, the fact that BFD shares services and calls with the town of Portland.

"I know Portland and Brocton share a number of calls ... does this include (Portland)? (Apparently,) Portland would like to be a part of it also. The number we're looking at is 38 members from the Brocton Fire Department, and 30 members from the Portland Fire Department ... we're looking at 5-10 members from each department that are maybe actually interested in coming up here to use the facilities," said Delcamp.

The board weighed the pros and cons.Positively, the school would provide service for an entity that works for free and is on call for the school and village at all times, and it would potentially bring in families from the fire department to pay for and use other facilities. The negative aspects of this potential agreement include loss of revenue, strain on the equipment and potential tax increases to maintain equipment.

"I'm also told that Sherman Central School does not charge their fire department to use their center. With that consideration, the concerns I have brought forward, I see the fire department's response team probably more often than we would like, and they do a phenomenal job. They come up and help with our elementary kids. The more people we have using the equipment, with the public coming in and paying for a monthly or yearly membership ... We were able to build the community into our school, and we want to be able to keep doing those things. We also have to be fiscally responsible to plan for the future of this equipment, as it wears out - what is the plan to replace it, so we can maintain what it is that we have?" DelCamp mentioned.

Board member Beth Jagoda was against the potential agreement, despite being a member of the volunteer agency herself.

"I am in no way speaking on behalf of the entire agency, I want to make that clear, this is just my personal standpoint on it. Yes, it is a life-saving skill that (Portland and Brocton) provide to the community," Jagoda clarified. "My first concern is, if we open these facilities up to the volunteer agencies for free, we're also going to get other people requesting that, too. I realize that nobody else in the district provides life-saving services for a community on a daily basis for free. However, the next organization that requests it may think whatever service they provide is just as worthy. It's my personal feeling that the departments should be going to their governing bodies and requesting that their governing bodies pay for those memberships. It should come at their expense, not at the expense of the district when it costs us to maintain the equipment and such. I don't feel that that should come at the district's expense and at the taxpayers' expense."

On the other hand, Tom DeJoe, another board member, was in favor of the proposal.

"I look at this as a win-win situation. We have two great volunteer fire departments who are here, and in seconds, for any issues we have at the school. They come here and provide training to our students, teach them fire safety and about how to get out of a bus in seconds. They also come to our football and other games for years, free, with their emergency services, and parents don't have to pay them after the service. But they're here, a night away from their families to do this, and we benefit from it. To not acknowledge it or to say thank you or to show our appreciation ... I feel we're doing a disservice to these two departments."

DeJoe also mentioned how the partnership would be a fiscal benefit to the school.

"The Brocton fire department is paid for by the village and is part of the village structure. It's a shared service center. Two years ago, when I went to the county meetings for shared services, the governor was advocating to help with aid to the school districts and the communities if you do something with shared services. This would add to that opportunity to get aid back. We're getting a benefit that we wouldn't get. It would pay for itself many times over. We have to submit, every year, a list of what shared services we do with the town, the village, et cetera. This would meet that," DeJoe said.

He listed the benefits and how Brocton would reap the rewards from this service.

"I feel strongly this is a positive situation, and we can work together to do something for the common good. I advocate that we go forward with this, with some stipulations ... make a permanent, renewable contract and take baby steps to get there. We need well trained, physically fit fire people to serve our community. To me, there are other benefits. This may be an incentive for a couple more people to join the volunteer fire department. We also could have a hidden benefit where someone comes in with a significant other or children to use the pool or something, so we could benefit in that aspect. It could put money in our pockets that we weren't getting before. There are many advantages here," DeJoe said.

Board member Robert Mead-Colegrove, however, questioned the availability of the potential received aid money, the burden on the taxpayers' wallets and the lost of revenue, and wondered if the fire department would accept a reduced rate instead.

"Is the aid we will get back able to be used to purchase equipment for the fitness center? Our fitness center doesn't run in the green, because we have to get the equipment, and hire the staff that run it. Even though it doesn't seem like a burden to the community, at some point, it will become a tax burden, because when the time comes, we will have to purchase more equipment, and we will have to get that approved," Mead-Colegrove explained.

"My impression is that we don't run in the green. The pool and the fitness center provide jobs, provide physical fitness and provide a service for our community. But I just did that math, and if every (firefighter) joined - and I don't think that will happen - that's 68 times $100, that's $6,800 in lost revenue," Mead-Colegrove calculated. "I'm OK with that in one way. The thing that does concern me is that if it's 100 percent for free, there will be others that will try to ask. I'm always a big proponent of a reduced cost, because it shows an acknowledgment and an appreciation. I've found sometimes that when you give something away for free, people don't find the value or find value and worth in what they're utilizing. I think 50 percent off is a great reduced cost."

However, another problem is the other fire departments that are in the area that sometimes assist Brocton/Portland with fire calls, or show up when the two departments are unavailable. Second vice president Todd McFadden wants to know about those districts, and if the offer would have to extend to them, as well.

"If we do it for these two fire departments ... we have Stockton, who comes to the games if the other departments can't make it to games, so now we have to open it up to them. I live in a completely different fire district. What is it to my guys who come to my house that are still in the Brocton school district? I pay fire tax, and it's not cheap. Now you're going to have to open it up to a different fire department because they cover half of the Brocton school district," he said.

The board remained seemingly split, and eventually decided to speak to its community board and hold off on making a decision until a later date.

"I would support a discount, but I will not, personally, support free," Jagoda said firmly.



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