Town of Johnstown extends Pleasant Square fire dept. contract

JASON SUBIK/THE LEADER-HERALD Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department Chief William Rowback Jr., right, stands for the pledge of allegiance Monday night during the Johnstown Town Board meeting.

TOWN OF JOHNSTOWN — The Town Board on Monday night voted to renew the Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department’s contract with the town for three years, until Dec. 31, 2024.

Town Supervisor Jack Wilson explained that the Town of Johnstown has five different tax rates for each of the five volunteer fire companies operating within the town, including the Berkshire Fire Department, which is contained within the town’s Fire District No. 1, which grants the company its own tax revenue stream.

He said the new three-year contract with Pleasant Square includes this schedule of tax payments levied to the residents of the Pleasant Square Fire Department’s territory:

• 2022 — $130,000

• 2023 — $135,000

• 2024 — $140,000

“So, it’s not a crazy raise, it’s about 3 percent [per year],” Wilson said.

The Town Board conducted a public hearing before approving the new contract. The only speaker was Pleasant Square Volunteer Fire Department Chief William Rowback Jr. who explained the three-years budget proposal he submitted as the basis of the contract extension.

“We did what could, the bare minimum,” Rowback said in terms of the increase. “We didn’t raise it up as much as we would like to, but we know the finances of the town, so, you know, we did what we could. Our truck maintenance [costs] will probably go down a little bit, hopefully after April when we get our new engine.”

Rowback, who also serves as Gloversville’s councilman-at-large and is the Republican Party candidate for Gloversville mayor in November, last month attended Johnstown’s Town Board meeting to voice his opposition to the town applying for a grant to study consolidation of four of the town’s fire companies: Pleasant Square, Sir William Johnson Volunteer Fire Department, Meco Volunteer Fire Department and Sammonsville Volunteer Fire Department.

“Basically, they were going to try to find out what we have, in terms of buildings, personnel, training reports, number of calls, and that kind of thing,” Rowback said. “We voiced our opinion, basically against it. What they wanted to do was come out with a second fire district. Berkshire is Fire District No.1, and they can set their tax rate at whatever they want. They just have a hearing like we did tonight, and, if nobody shows up, it passes.”

Rowback said he’s served as Pleasant Square’s fire chief for the past year, and prior to that served as assistant chief. He described the company’s territory as being all of the unincorporated hamlet of Pleasant Square, bound by Route 146 and Route 309, with territory that abuts the fire territories of the Meco Volunteer Fire Department, Town of Bleecker Fire Department and the City of Johnstown Fire Department. He said the company has about 43 members, averages between 50-60 calls per year, and currently has one fire engine and another fire engine on loan from the Perth Volunteer Fire Company, a transport truck and a water-source truck.

Rowback said he doesn’t think consolidation of the companies is necessary or a good idea, and the money that would have been spent on a study could be better spent elsewhere.

“The town could have spent money on a study and after it was finished the four departments could have still said they didn’t want do it, so it was a waste of money,” Rowback said. “I don’t want to speak for the other chiefs, but I think if we looked at it on our own [without a costly study] we can see that Meco has one of the newest stations out of the four departments. It all depends on if we were going to utilize all four stations and have a new fire district [for all of them], but they were talking about eliminating two of the stations. If they were to eliminate Pleasant Square the response time, [coming] from Meco [would be slower], and if you eliminated Sir William Johnson, that’s another delay in calls.”

During the meeting Wilson and town board members Walt Lane and Donald Vandeusen voted in favor of the contract extension. Town Board member Tim Rizzo is out on medical leave.

After the meeting, Wilson said Town of Johnstown taxpayers collectively paid $791,854 for fire service protection for 2021, between the five different fire company territories, counting Berkshire’s Fire District No. 1, which sets its own rate.

These are the 2021 numbers for the five fire companies:

• Berkshire — $306,500, tax rate of $2.57 per $1,000 of assessed value.

• Sammonsville — $98,000, tax rate of $2.53 per $1,000 of assessed value.

• Meco — $166,929, tax rate of $2.27 per $1,000 of assessed value.

• Pleasant Square — $124,925, tax rate of $1.92 per $1,000 of assessed value.

• Sir William Johnson — $95,500, tax rate of $1.91 per per $1,000 of assessed value.

Wilson said, not counting labor which is all volunteer for the town’s fire companies, he believes the people of the town of Johnstown pay more money for equipment and facilities than the city of Johnstown, Gloversville, the city of Amsterdam or “probably a lot of the city of Schenectady actually pays.” He said the volunteers do a great job, and he himself was one of them for years, but although the idea of consolidating the companies is probably dead for now, and won’t likely be brought back up during his tenure as supervisor, he still believes that one day the town will have to face the issue to curb costs.

“I think there are a lot of ways that we could save money, if we had a townwide fire company,” Wilson said. “I think we could easily save a considerable amount of money. Is it a totally dead deal? No. At some point in the future this will have to be addressed.”

By Paul Wager