Shawangunk to help volunteer firefighters

By RACHEL COLEMAN
Posted 7/22/20

“What we’re afraid of is that come December, if we continue in this process, some members that are in good standing are going to be boxed out,” said Dave Grass of the Walker Valley …

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Shawangunk to help volunteer firefighters

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“What we’re afraid of is that come December, if we continue in this process, some members that are in good standing are going to be boxed out,” said Dave Grass of the Walker Valley Fire Company.

Grass spoke at the Shawangunk Town Board meeting last week, asking the board to consider helping the volunteer firefighters.

The Walker Valley Fire Company participates in a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), which is a similar to a pension, intended to help recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. The program provides financial benefits based on the volunteer’s longevity of service when they retire, become disabled or pass away.

In order to remain in good standing and add another year of service, each volunteer must earn 50 points during the year.

Grass explained that they can receive up to 25 points—half of the required 50—for responding to ten percent of the department’s overall call volume. Since Walker Valley averages about 230 calls, each volunteer would have to respond to 23 calls during the year.

The remaining 25 points are earned by participating in drills, meetings, parades and other events, where they earn a single point for each event.

In March, the governor’s executive order shut down all of those events and gatherings due to the pandemic.

Grass advised the board that a recent Senate bill allowed for the department to award their members in good standing up to five points per month while the executive order is in place, but it must be approved by the town board.

“There is no extra cost to the town and/or taxpayers,” said Grass. “It’s just allowing members to be able to garner points where they were normally not able to because of the restrictions.”

This month they were able to begin opening drills on a limited basis.

“Unfortunately we have some of our more experienced population—I won’t say senior—who are still a little reluctant to come around, and those are the ones that I want to make sure we’re taking care of because they’re worried more about their health,” said Grass.

Members of the town board voiced concern that if they waited to decide or award the points until the end of the year—leaving the volunteers uncertain if they would get the points—they might lose incentive to participate. Or, if they agreed to give 5 points a month for the 10 months, lose incentive because they had received all the points they need.

“Participation inside the department has never been a problem,” said Grass, adding that so far the fire company has answered every call with no delay in responses.

“My only concern is the seniors. I know the seniors they’ve been there 25-30 years, putting their time in and they’re afraid, they don’t want to catch anything,” said Councilman Matt Watkins. “I’d hate to penalize them for that.”

Grass pointed out that the board can amend any decision they make up until December 31, and the points are awarded retroactively to March.

The board decided to award 2.5 points per month and discuss it again in September to amend as needed.

The board also discussed the possible purchase of the Wallkill firehouse located adjacent to the town hall. They have not yet received a figure from the fire company however, and it has been reported that the structure needs work, including a roof and windows.

It was agreed that the town needs an independent appraisal and inspection performed to consider purchasing the property.

“I think they’re going to have an issue selling the building unless they sell it to us, because we already own a wall, the back wall of that building,” noted Councilman Robert Miller.

The board explained that the firehouse was built partially on town property, which could mean issues with any other future owner of the firehouse.

The town’s idea was to purchase the building for their police department. Councilman Adrian Dewitt suggested that the police chief join the appraiser and inspector when they walk through the firehouse, to see if it would fit the department’s needs and determine what it might cost to renovate.

The town supervisor will look into having an appraisal, inspection and possible walk through with the police chief.

Police Chief Gerald Marlatt also proposed a possible purchase of two new police vehicles. He provided the board with a list of the current vehicles, many of which have more than 100,000 miles. He said he’d received quotes from state bid and discussed the proposal with the police committee.

“Sometimes we have to run the same vehicle three shifts in a row and it’s taxing on the vehicle,” said Chief Marlatt, adding that getting two vehicles would spread out the use of the vehicles and allow them to retain them longer.

He also was hoping that one of the vehicles would be a pickup truck for supervisor use, putting the current supervisor vehicle—a relatively new SUV—into the patrol rotation. However, Councilman Miller questioned the move, knowing that at some point the pickup may be pressed into service for patrol.

Chief Marlatt said it wasn’t a good idea to use a pickup truck for patrol.

“I don’t think it’s practical because we’re trying to replace the patrol car, we need to replace it with something that’s going to be able to patrol,” said Councilman Adrian Dewitt.

Town Supervisor John Valk said he thought they should purchase SUVs, as they would be interchangeable, but said he was not ready to act on anything. He would check on lease purchase prices and pointed out that the town didn’t budget for the purchase.

Chief Marlatt advised the board that after moving to a new computer system, he realized the department would no longer have to pay for 11 licenses of an old program which means an annual savings of $3,500.

Supervisor Valk noted that they are still working on the required Police Policy Review Committee and he would like to set up meetings with stakeholders and the public, as well as have the police committee review the town’s current policies. Chief Marlatt said he has “brainstormed” with some stakeholders.

“Some of those items have to be negotiated with the union,” said Valk. “We have until April to do this, but let’s get the ball rolling.”

The town’s traffic court will be reopening on August 10 under special scheduling with three separate sessions that evening and a dozen people an hour.

The board also granted tentative approval for a car show on August 29. Dave Courdner spoke to the board about the return of last year’s car show and stated that they have 75 entries and may have about 200 people in attendance. The event will take place from noon to 5 p.m., on the same streets as last year.

Certain safety precautions will be required, including the wearing of masks. The event is also dependent on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hopefully people will come out,” said Courdner. “I don’t really know.”

Courdner is to coordinate with the police chief and fire department and also develop a plan for sanitizing stations and other measures by the next town board meeting on August 13.

Highway Superintendent Joseph LoCicero updated the board on paving the department has been completing and advised them that he wanted to stick with the revised 284 Agreement previously provided. Pleasant Avenue, originally on the list for the year, cannot be done until the developer completes their work on the street.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to get done. A lot of work. And it’s not getting any cheaper,” said LoCicero. “Blacktop is $100,000 a road mile. My budget is $300,000, so that’s three miles. When you have 100 miles of road, that’s 30 years.”

LoCicero said he is trying hard to fix what he can within his budget and his men are working “very diligently and hard.”

He hopes to work soon on Stein Road, which he said is “going nowhere as of right now.”

“I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt there,” said LoCicero. “That road is collapsing.”

LoCicero said an engineer is needed in order to move forward with their possible solution and noted that the school bus company has called his office multiple times, wondering when the road will be reopened.

In other business, the board spoke briefly about a request from Hudson Valley Apartments to revisit their request for sewer. Town Supervisor Valk noted that the real issue however, is that they want to double the number of existing buildings.

“It would probably be the highest density we have in the town,” said Valk, noting that the project was built prior to the town’s current zoning. “He has more than our zoning allows now.”

Valk stated last time the board decided the request wasn’t “beneficial” to the town.

“I think we just stick with our decision,” said Councilman Brian Amthor.

The town is considering purchasing a dropbox for the town hall which would entail a lockbox inside with an opening through the wall. The estimated cost is about $1,300.

The supervisor also advised the board that the community clock for the head of the rail trail has been delivered. He is now planning for the installation and wiring.

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