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OFFICIALS READY FOR TALKS WITH ACTIVE HOSE

The funding firestorm between the Town of Niagara and Niagara Active Hose Fire Co. has cooled off sufficiently for them to return to the bargaining table Monday, officials said Friday.

The town's only fire company received $144,000 in funding last year, which marked the end of a four-year contract. In negotiating a new five-year pact, Active Hose asked for $220,000 for this year's operating expenses, said Robert Jasper, president of the company.

Town Board members doused the offer and demanded to see the company's financial records. Active Hose turned over its books and agreed to renew negotiations.

Jasper said the $220,000 wasn't a do-or-die figure.

"We have no intention of terminating the contract and ending service to the town," he said Friday. "As in any negotiations, the $220,000 was the figure we started at, and we go from there."

Active Hose, which has 40 volunteer firefighters, couldn't operate on last year's figure, Jasper added.

The board shut down the Niagara 1 Fire Company in 2001 after members of Active Hose charged that Niagara 1 firefighters were incompetent and a threat to themselves and the community.

"Niagara Active Hose is now doing double duty," said Niagara Falls attorney Damon DeCastro, who is representing the fire company. "We understand there are fiscal constraints on the town, but we're operating on a shoestring budget and we need to upgrade our equipment."

Fanning the flames are board members who have expressed concerns over Active Hose's bookkeeping, notably a recent $10,000 shortfall from the company's bingo program.

Supervisor Steven C. Richards said Friday he is confident contract negotiations can be settled.

"Now that cooler heads have prevailed," he said, "I look forward to settling this real fast."

Pam Kowalik of The News Niagara Bureau contributed to this story.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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