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Fire contract stuck on details

The Johnsburg fire district contract was turned down twice during the town board's Feb. 7 meeting.

The Johnsburg fire district contract was turned down twice during the town board's Feb. 7 meeting. Photo by John Grybos.

— The Johnsburg fire district departments still have no contract after the chiefs all gathered for a second public meeting to pass their new contract.

The town of Johnsburg introduced a new fire contract last summer after many years with the same two-page agreement. The new document was full of specific clauses demanding responses to emergencies the fire department volunteers weren't equipped for that the chiefs found dissatisfying. They wanted to return to their traditional contract, but legal advice to the town said the new contract was standard and comparable to other locales. A temporary contract was enacted last summer.

So the fire departments got a lawyer to protect their interests, and the town and fire district lawyers hammered out a contract that should have been agreeable to both parties.

But the town board didn't agree, at least not the majority. Kate Nightingale didn't make the meeting, so there were four board members to put to vote.

After the public hearing raised questions about a late payment charge of 5.5 percent to the town and what the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law cited in the contract is, board member Pete Olesheski tried to force immediate action with authoritative motions to close the hearing and pass the contract. But fellow councilmen Arnold Stevens and Gene Arsenault couldn't agree with the contract as it was presented. Without a fifth member, Town Supervisor Ron Vanselow and Olesheski's aye votes made a deadlock — twice as Vanselow tried to pass the contract later in the meeting.

The late payment fee was negotiable, said the board, though it seems to show undue distrust for a small-town fire district agreement.

“It's not a dealbreaker,” said Stevens. “It's not a hill I'm willing to die on.”

Vanselow throughout discussion on the fire contract alluded to a problem department in the district, and said the contract needed half-steps for accountability. It shouldn't be a make-or-break contract, he said, there should be a process for airing grievances before a contract is severed.

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