A vote that may determine the future fate of a St. James firehouse has been set for June 19.
The board of commissioners of the St. James Fire District voted to move forward with holding a June 19 public referendum on the sale of the Route 25A firehouse to the St. James Fire Department, a nonprofit organization that is made up of the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.
The white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A was purchased nearly five years ago by the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings and fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use. The district’s hope was that purchase of the building would help reduce its annual expenses, as it was paying rent for space to the St. James Fire Department.
“Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option,” Commissioner Ed Springer said.
The Route 25A firehouse, built in 1922, has not been significantly renovated or updated in more than 50 years. The fire district said the antiquated building cannot house a majority of its current fire engines due to height restrictions of the garage bay, so only one truck operates out of the location.
“Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option.”
– Ed Springer
Under the original contract of sale, there was a clause that stipulated the St. James Fire Department would be given the first chance to repurchase the building should the district put it up for sale. This contract has been upheld by the New York State Supreme Court and the state attorney general’s office.
“Selling it back to the department would carry a number of benefits: the department, as they are under different laws and regulations than the fire district, would be able to expedite repairs and improvements to the facility, through the use of its budget,” Springer said.
If the building’s sale is approved June 19, there will be no tax rate impact on fire district residents.
The proposed sale has led to widespread concern through the St. James community about the future of the firehouse and whether it would still be an active station. Earlier this year, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the district’s proposed plans to consolidate all operations out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters. Dahlgard said he feared it would significantly increase response times for his residents, placing them at increased risk, as that station is farther away.
Bill Kearney, vice chairmen of the St. James Fire District board, said the goal of possible consolidation would be to improve emergency response times by bringing key personnel together at one location.
To better assess the community’s needs and concerns, the fire district launched an online survey asking residents, taxpayers and business operations in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide feedback on their fire rescue services by April 30. A preliminary draft of the survey’s responses has been given to the fire commissioners, according to spokeswoman Jessica Novins, but had not been released to the public as of May 22. The fire commissioners have not had time to review the preliminary draft yet, according to Novins.
A community forum for residents within the fire district will be held Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m. where information will be presented about the sale, future plans for the Route 25A building will be addressed and to answer any questions regarding the referendum. The location of the May 30 meeting is to be determined by May 24 and then posted on the fire district’s website at www.stjamesfd.org.