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As a fire department disbands, Selectboard considers what to do with its assets

NEWFANE—Last year, the members of the South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Department announced their plans to dissolve the department and close the fire station.

The reason, according to attorney Bob Fisher, who represents the department, is a lack of staffing. Other departments in the region report the same problem: Not enough suitable people want to volunteer their time to fight fires.

At the July 16 regular Selectboard meeting, Fisher and a few members of the South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Department asked the Board what they would like to do with the department’s assets.

“By virtue of their IRS 501(c)3 [nonprofit] status, when they dissolve, all of the assets that are left over go to the town of Newfane,” Fisher said.

One of those assets, Fisher noted, is a small parcel of land and the fire station that occupies it. That building is currently the subject of litigation between a neighbor and the department to settle a disagreement about the property’s deed, he said.

If the Fire Department wins, “they want to get a sense from the Selectboard” whether they would like to keep or sell the building, and if they sell it, what will happen to the proceeds, Fisher said. “Will it go toward NewBrook [Fire Department]... [or] to add a lean-to to the town garage to house a fire truck to serve that side of town?”

South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Department member Steve Jones noted two firetrucks are included in the assets, and he and his colleagues hope NewBrook will retain ownership of them and keep them at the town garage.

Some of the Highway Department staff are firefighters, he noted, and can easily access the portion of town served by his fire department.

Selectboard member Gary Delius reminded the firefighters that in a few years, the state will replace the Arch Bridge, bringing that route — which links the town garage and parts of South Newfane and Williamsville — out of service. “We’ll have to come up with a contingency plan to deal with that,” Delius said.

Fisher told Board members the discussion’s purpose is “to get a sense of where you want to go with this because it affects the Fire Department’s decisions on how they go forward with this case and how much effort they put into it.”

Board Chair Marion Dowling thanked Fisher and the firefighters for bringing the conversation to the Selectboard and said she and her colleagues will address it with Town Attorney Richard Carroll. Once they get Carroll’s advice, they will contact Fisher.

Delius affirmed the Board’s dedication to serving the public. “Dollars and cents don’t mean a thing,” he said, and added, “We need to make sure we’re providing the level of life-safety that’s necessary to protect our citizens. What do we need to do to do that?”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #471 (Wednesday, August 8, 2018). This story appeared on page A3.

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