Tivoli fire official demands repair money

By Robert Lachman and Sarah Imboden

Tivoli firefighters have requested more money from the village for urgently needed firehouse repairs, but budget cuts and last year’s spending freeze have left the department with few options.

Village Mayor Bryan Cranna instituted the spending freeze, which lasted from February 25 to the end of May, in a memo to department heads. It was discussed at a public meeting March 19, but at the time no departments complained.

Then at the July 16 village board meeting, fire department director Tom Crisci, Sr. questioned the mayor and board about the new budget, which started June 1, and asked where the money went that was slated for fire department maintenance in last year’s budget.

“Last year, you guys allotted us $25,000-$30,000 for interior/exterior building maintenance on the firehouse,” he said. “This year, we’ve been cut back to $5,000.”

The 2013 allotment was never spent due to the budget freeze, he noted.

Crisci listed several problems at the firehouse: the outside lights don’t work and the roof leaked during recent storms, with water coming into the truck bay, the furnace room and the bathroom. The fire department also wanted to paint the outside of the building for the first time in 30 years, but the money budgeted for that last year was never released.

Crisci also noted that there are 40 volunteer firefighters who have turnout gear that doesn’t fit.

He also explained that a project to repair the firehouse gutters was begun in 2013 and the accepted bid at the time was $3,000. But the contractor requested upfront payment for the materials, which the village treasurer told the fire department municipal law did not allow.

Trustee Susan Ezrati, village board liaison to the fire department, later explained that the village attorney said wording the bid differently would have allowed the project to go forward. But by that time, the spending freeze was in place.

Now the cost for the project is $8,000, according to Crisci.

“I don’t know where that money went to because we never got to spend it last year, you guys stopped us,” Crisci told the board members. “It was allocated to us and then you took it away. We’re looking at protecting a very important asset to the village and we need to see that money put back there.”

A slightly flustered Cranna had no answer, telling Crisci, “I don’t have the budget in front of me right now.”

“You weren’t the only person who got frozen, Tom, the entire village got frozen,” Cranna continued. “With regards to finding money in the budget, I don’t know where money is going to come from and for this board to find more money, we’ll have to take it under advisement and come up with a plan of action.”

Crisci ended his comments with a reminder that the firehouse is “one of the key buildings in this village and we can’t let it go to waste.”

The discussion with Crisci was part of the regular board meeting, which was preceded by a workshop one hour before, at which final budget modifications to close the 2013-2014 budget were approved.

The modifications document balances the budget by transferring money that wasn’t used in one budget line to other lines that were over budget. The two main budget areas with unused money were: $18,881 budgeted for village attorney fees and the fire department, with $21,625. Those funds were used to balance overspending in such lines such as “Financial” at $4,357; village hall maintenance, at $5,706; payments to police, $7,409; zoning enforcement costs, including those related to the Tivoli Sailing Company dock disagreement, at $11, 263; and snow removal costs of $4,628.

The modifications in the end balanced $43,438 of overspending with the same amount of underspent funds.

After being prohibited from using that $21,625, prior to June 1, the fire department will also have a smaller budget for this fiscal year. Last year’s total fire department budget was $65,401. This year’s budget, for the fiscal year that started June 1, shows a total of $58,728, a decrease of $6,673.

Of that total, $10,000 is set aside for capital equipment expenses, which could include items like turnout gear, according to Ezrati. Another $15,400 is reserved for truck and other equipment repair and maintenance, including air for the oxygen tanks.

The bulk of the department’s remaining funds, $33,328, goes mainly to nondiscretionary contractual costs, including liability insurance of about $15,000, and utility bills, including phone, electricity, and heating oil. Ezrati estimated that these costs can total more than $28,000, which will leave roughly $5,328 for repairs and other discretionary spending.

“I would like to see more proactive advocacy for the fire department by the board,” Ezrati told the Observer, noting that several of these issues could have been avoided with more guidance to the fire department from the village board. “We give them awards, we congratulate them, we note their bravery…My god, we had four terrible accidents on 9G last year. It was the firemen who were there to deal with that. These are certainly citizens worthy of getting their roof repaired.”

Cranna’s February spending freeze memo stated that Tivoli was over budget by $76,000, putting the village at “severe risk.”

“If an expenditure is absolutely essential, please inform me and I will review the budget and upon review, approve and or disapprove. If the department can get by without it and delay expenditure until the new fiscal year, please plan to do so,” he said in the memo.

He also noted: “While I understand the inconvenience this causes, it should be noted that the New York State Comptroller is about to review our budget any day, and overages will surely be noted by the Comptroller.”

As of the July 16 meeting, the review by the state comptroller was still pending.

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