The Examiner

New Castle Fire District, Mt. Kisco to Terminate Agreement Over Costs

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The Green Street firehouse in Mount Kisco, one of the village’s three firehouses that will be undergoing renovations. The added cost of the project is one of the issues that has led to disagreement between the village and New Castle Fire District #1.

A longstanding agreement that provides Mount Kisco fire protection service to nearly 150 New Castle properties will be terminated at the end of the month unless a dispute over escalating fees can be resolved.

Mount Kisco Village Manager Edward Brancati sent a letter last Tuesday to Erik Nicolaysen, chairman of the New Castle Fire District #1 fire commissioners, notifying him that the village’s fire department will cease covering 147 properties at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 that are in the Town of New Castle but are closest to the village’s firehouses.

Termination of the agreement is a result of discord between the fire district and the village over higher costs that would be levied, much of which are a result of Mount Kisco’s recently started $14 million renovation of its three firehouses, according to New Castle fire officials.

Brancati said that it was the New Castle fire district’s decision to look elsewhere for service in the affected area. The properties that will no longer be serviced by the Mount Kisco Fire Department are located along a portion of Route 128 from the village line into New Castle, and then between routes 128 and 117 and Taylor Road, he said.

“It’s completely (their) choice to have somebody else cover these properties in this area but it’s going to cost these residents and taxpayers,” Brancati said. “If they’re going to be covered by anyone else, it will cost them more.”

Brancati said there is still the chance that an agreement could be reached to continue the service. The two sides have remained in contact with each other, and even if the agreement lapses there is nothing preventing the two parties from coming to terms in the future, he said.

“We believe in the shared services model – myself, the mayor, the board, the village,” Brancati said. “We believe in the model, we’ve used it and we’ve used it for years in a variety of different services, and for us, how can we deliver the most efficient, the most effective, cost-effective and highest level of service, whatever that service may be, not only in the village but outside the village.”

Nicolaysen declined to comment on the specifics of the matter. He estimated that the agreement has been in place for at least 30 to 40 years.

Chappaqua Fire Chief Russell Maitland said the Chappaqua Fire Department will step in and take over coverage of the territory. He said the new arrangement shouldn’t present an obstacle for routine calls, but the estimated two to five additional minutes it will take Chappaqua firefighters to respond from their King Street firehouse to those properties could be a problem in a life-threatening situation.

He said the reason for the agreement years ago was that the Mount Kisco firehouses were in close proximity to that area of New Castle.

“It’s earth shattering in that for some of these people the (Mount Kisco) firehouse was less than a half-mile away and now we’re going three, four miles away,” Maitland said of the change. “So response time, no matter what you do, is going to increase.”

Maitland said it was his understanding that what had been about a total $50,000 annual taxation for the 147 properties was going to more than double, to as much as $120,000 a year.

The fire district offered Mount Kisco an extra $100 from each of the property owners, or close to $15,000, but it was rejected, according to Maitland.

He pointed to Mount Kisco saddling their neighbors with the extra expense after its architect badly miscalculated the renovation costs of its three firehouses. In 2017, Mount Kisco voters approved a $10.25 million bond, but it was nearly $8 million short. Last year, the Village Board asked its residents for another $4 million while also reducing the scope of the work.

“It’s pretty ironic that they screwed up on their budget for their building, then all of a sudden we get hit for some exorbitant increase,” Maitland said.

But Brancati explained that all costs are calculated by a set formula. The village uses the operating budget, the principal and interest and debt, adds it up and then takes the assessed value of all properties in the district and factors in the equalization rate, he said. That works out to a percentage and the fire budget is apportioned on that percentage.

The 147 parcels account for about 3 percent of the properties serviced by the Mount Kisco Fire Department, Brancati said. There are 2,799 parcels in Mount Kisco, 1,385 in the Northern Fire Protection District, which mainly takes in other areas of New Castle, and 86 in Bedford.

Within the past year, the New Castle Town Board explored alternatives for the Northern Fire Protection District because of similarly rising costs but decided against making any changes.

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