Ferrisburgh gives city partial fire payment; new deal sought
FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday authorized a partial payment on its fire contract with Vergennes, an agreement that remains up in the air as officials from both communities hold ongoing talks on a revised arrangement.
The board had budgeted $87,060 in spending approved by voters in March to pay Vergennes for being the first responder to all of Ferrisburgh west of Otter Creek and much of the town’s south end. The Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department is the first responder to the rest of the town.
But the selectboard agreed to pay only $26,907, an amount board members believe might be closer to what the town should be giving the city for half a year of fire service based on the number of calls made by its fire department to Ferrisburgh.
Board Chair Jessica James told the board discussions on a new deal have been going well, and she asked members to approve a payment to be made to show the town’s “good faith” as talks proceed.
The Ferrisburgh selectboard had first balked at making a payment when the city budget approved in June called for the town to make a contribution of $92,767 to the city’s $224,227 fire department budget, about $5,000 more than backed by town voters.
Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham historically have paid Vergennes based on the assessed value of property covered by the city department as first responder for each community. Vergennes firefighters cover all of Panton and Waltham in that capacity as well as a portion of Ferrisburgh.
Ferrisburgh officials then took a closer look at the contract and the department’s response rate. They discovered over a 10-year period the city department answers roughly twice as many calls in Vergennes (48.1% of its call-outs) as in Ferrisburgh (24.1%), according to Vergennes Fire Department data.
Meanwhile, in the past fiscal year, the Vergennes fire budget called for a Ferrisburgh contribution of $86,626 that represented 38.6% of the $224,227 spending plan.
Ferrisburgh’s requested share has also grown from $54,528 in 2017 to the most recent request of more than $92,000. The city has purchased a new fire truck and other needed equipment during that period.
James, Vergennes City Manager Ron Redmond, Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur and other city and town officials have met periodically since the summer to work on a new arrangement, one that might also give Ferrisburgh more of a say in the budgeting process.
Most recently James, Redmond and Breur met last week, and it went well, according to James and Redmond.
“We had a great meeting,” Redmond said. “We’ll continue to talk.”
One of the items agreed upon was that a joint town-city committee should study the issues, including whether the two communities should form a larger joint fire district or simply find a way to rework the contract.
Either way, Redmond said he is confident, although he expected with the city council having to focus on a sewer system fix it will be at least a month before a committee can be formed.
“We’re both committed to keep talking with each other,” Redmond said. “We want a good relationship with Ferrisburgh, and she (James) wants a good relationship with Vergennes.”
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