There was a time when representatives of the Copenhagen Fire Department could have saved taxpayers a lot of aggravation and a good amount of money by complying with the wishes of village officials in surrendering the group’s assets.
Questionable firefighting and bookkeeping practices by the volunteer firefighter organization resulted in the Village Board of Trustees taking measures last year to place the agency under its control. Both the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (part of the state Department of Labor) and the office of state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released audits in 2021 raising issues with Fire Department practices. A year ago, Copenhagen trustees voted to absorb the agency’s finances into the village budget.
The Village Board later instructed the Fire Department to turn over its assets and finances. Several towns indicated they would not renew pending contracts to receive fire protection service from the agency if it remained a separate entity. Village Board members told the Fire Department to comply with this request or face dissolution.
Unfortunately, Fire Department officials resisted the board and didn’t provide answers to issues left unresolved. Village authorities eventually dissolved the department. Late last year, Copenhagen approved an agreement with the Rutland Volunteer Fire Department to provide protection.
And those running the Copenhagen Fire Department continue to oppose the demands of village officials to turn over their assets. The village recently filed a complaint against the nonprofit group with the state Supreme Court.
“Two of the six bank accounts still held by Copenhagen Fire Department Inc., the nonprofit corporate structure formed in 1951 from the now-abolished village Fire Department, are frozen until the next Lewis County Supreme Court proceeding. Candace L. Randall, attorney for the village, and Albany-based Terence S. Hannigan, lawyer for the fire corporation and former village Fire Chief Terence M. ‘T.J.’ Williams Jr. worked out an agreement off the record in what Judge Charles C. Merrell referred to as ‘an extensive conference’ in his chambers on [the morning of Feb. 16] before he asked Mr. Hannigan to read the agreed-upon provisions into the record,” according to a story published Saturday by the Watertown Daily Times. The two bank accounts the fire corporation is still allowed to use are a Community Bank checking account and the “2% account” — a separate account for the 2% tax on fire insurance premiums with insurance companies outside of the state earmarked for fire departments or companies to use as they see fit through the state Foreign Fire Tax program. The corporation can petition the court to use one of the frozen checking accounts if additional funds are needed before the hearing to decide final asset ownership. Judge Merrell stipulated, however, that ‘the court will expect full accounting of any funds taken out of either of those accounts.’
“In addition to firefighting gear and equipment like hoses, radios and pagers, among others, seven vehicles, including a firetruck, water pumper trucks, a flatbed truck and a personnel transportation van were listed in the items the village believes it owns,” the article reported. “The attorneys agreed that the corporation is not allowed to use the trucks or fire equipment in its possession until further notice, but they do not have to give any of the items to the village as requested in the village’s complaint filed Feb. 6. The corporation is required to maintain the equipment to keep it in good working order. Only the pickup truck with a plow can still be used, although the corporation can petition the court for use of the van if needed.”
Fire Department leaders should have cooperated with village officials from the beginning. But a court will now decide how this all will proceed, and it’s not likely to be a happy ending for the organization.
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To bad the 2 in picture won't read this article.
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