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April 14, 2014

Brighton, St. Armand officials wary of fire district plan

SARANAC LAKE — The idea of creating a very large fire district is smoldering in this region.

It isn’t new — the concept has been in discussion for nearly 10 years.

But smaller towns surrounding Saranac Lake want to sort tax implications before talk continues.

In Brighton, Town Council members voted against being part of a larger fire district. A similar sentiment is emerging in St. Armand and Franklin.

HAMLET COVERAGE

The discussion of fire coverage isn’t simple; towns all have hamlet population centers within their wilderness borders.

Gabriels, Paul Smiths, McCollums, Keeses Mill and Rainbow Lake are hamlets in the Town of Brighton.

Vermontville and Onchiota are hamlets in the Town of Franklin.

And Bloomingdale is a densely settled hamlet in the Town of St. Armand, which also has a population base within the Village of Saranac Lake.

A fourth town, Santa Clara, also contracts for fire-protection services with nearby departments, since it doesn’t have a fire company. In January this year, the town switched from Saranac Lake for a lower-cost five-year contract with Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

BRIGHTON BOWS OUT

At a recent Town Council meeting, Brighton decided the cons at this point outweigh the pros of a regional fire district.

Brighton Supervisor Peter Shrope and Councilor Amber McKernan attended an informational meeting held in Harrietstown in March, as did Paul Smiths-Gabriels Fire Chief Tom Tucker and several others from his department.

Tucker reported back to Brighton Town Council that the up sides of being part of a larger district include removing liability concerns from the fire department and pooling funding for equipment.

The down side, however, creates uncertainty by population imbalance; the smaller population base in outlying towns could be outweighed by the larger number of village voters in any district budget decision, he said.

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