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4 Clarence fire companies to get no increase in funding from town

Four of Clarence's volunteer fire companies will receive the same amount of town funding in 2011 and 2012 that they were given last year.

The Town Board on Wednesday approved two-year contracts with the Clarence Center, Harris Hill, Swormville and Rapids volunteer fire companies. East Amherst previously agreed to a three-year contract with a 1 percent funding decrease.

The unanimous vote followed a tense exchange between Councilman Joseph N. Weiss and attorney and Swormville member Steven M. Cohen.

"Fire is no longer the enemy it was to us in agrarian days, and we really have to look at what we have," Weiss said after saying that the town's volunteer fire facilities were overbuilt and costly and that 95 percent of the companies' service was emergency medical calls, not fires.

Cohen responded by saying that fire companies have mutual-aid plans to share service and that fire halls are multifunctional, serving as polling places, emergency shelters and rental space.

"You better get your facts straight before you come before us," Weiss said. "I'm telling you the lion's share are not [rented]."

"Perhaps the lion's share are not," Cohen said.

"When the alarm goes off, it's volunteers who get out of bed and respond, usually about 60 percent faster than paid services," Cohen said.

Clarence Center will receive $775,000; Harris Hill will receive $715,855; Swormville will receive $212,849; Rapids, in Niagara County, will receive $40,500; and East Amherst will receive $270,000.

Those figures do not include funds the town has budgeted for workers' compensation, changes in assessment, emergency phone and radio services and service awards, or dollar amounts companies give to members who have served a certain number of years.

Of those funds, Harris Hill will receive $180,076, a 59 percent increase; Clarence Center will receive $173,687, a 19 percent increase; Swormville will receive $80,043, a 45 percent increase and East Amherst will receive $62,121, a 23 percent increase. Rapids receives no such funds.

Fire officials and Supervisor Scott A. Bylewski said market values tend to raise those figures year by year. Garry Soehner, treasurer of Harris Hill, said his company's 59 percent increase is due to the town's failure to adequately fund the award system in the past.

Soehner said his 62-member company, which has been without a contract since Jan. 1, has tried to save money by restructuring loans and mortgages and having fewer members attend training sessions.

"We really have cut back," he said. "Anything like that, we take a hard look at."


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