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Deerfield nonprofits to aid fire truck purchase

DEERFIELD — At the same time that some townspeople have questioned whether local private schools do enough in lieu of taxes, the schools have agreed to contribute $80,000 for the purchase of a new fire truck for the Old Deerfield Fire Department.

This week, four nonprofits — Deerfield Academy, Bement School, Eaglebrook School and Historic Deerfield — have agreed to donate $80,000 over the next 10 years to the volunteer fire department for the purchase of a new 10-wheel truck.

The full cost of the truck is $250,000. The fire district is using $100,000 of its capital stabilization and trading in two older vehicles worth $25,000 to fund the purchase. The rest would be made up through taxation. Prudential Committee member Patricia Kelly said she has not calculated how much the new truck will affect the tax rate.

In addition to its share of the $80,000, Deerfield Academy offered to provide the fire district with a no-interest loan, which would save the district approximately $25,000 over 10 years.

The new truck would fit in the 65-year-old fire house. With the new truck, the fire district will have two fire trucks and two brush trucks. Though the district is downsizing from three to two trucks, Fire Chief Chet Yazwinski said the new truck with a 1,500-gallon-per-minute pump will be adequate. The village’s water system is only capable of handling one pumper anyway, Yazwinski said.

On Tuesday, the Prudential Committee held its annual town meeting at the old fire house on Main Street, where the 20 people in attendance supported a $79,601 budget for next year.

The Deerfield Area Fire Protection District is a separate government entity from the town with its own budget and governing board, the three-member Prudential Committee.

The truck contribution comes as some Deerfield residents are questioning whether the tax-exempt nonprofits should contribute more to the cash-strapped town.

The nonprofits are largely exempt from paying property taxes to the village fire district or the municipal government. The nonprofits make up a large portion of the tax base in the fire district — about $204,080,818 or 58 percent of the total value of property, compared to $143,922,544 or 41.4 percent for the taxpayers.

Instead of taxes, the nonprofits provide monetary gifts to the fire district. Last year, Deerfield Academy gave $16,300, Bement $1,445, Historic Deerfield $2,200, Eaglebrook $4,400, First Church $535. The district has not received the Fiscal Year 2014 gifts yet.

The private schools also make up most of Old Deerfield fires calls.

Last year, there were 101 alarms for the district, 59 alarms for the private schools and nine alarms for other nonprofits. Most of the private school calls, 57, were false alarms like overheating hair dryers, toasters and the like.

From 2011 to 2014, there were a total of 258 calls, 119 alarms for the private schools and 21 for other nonprofits. Of that, 28 were false alarms within the district, 108 were false alarms at the private schools and 14 were false alarms at other nonprofits.

Over the past three years, Deerfield Fire has responded to 38 calls for mutual aid.

Long-term viability

The village nonprofits made their decision after several emails and calls with district leaders.

In an April letter, Business Manager at Bement School Ken Cuddeback said “there was general consensus among the (nonprofits) that, while we all are willing to consider supporting the fire district in its attempt to fund this purchase, we all have concerns about the long-term plans for the district and its viability as an organization going forward.”

At the time, the four nonprofits’ concerns included the long-term viability of the district as it becomes increasingly difficult to find volunteers to serve the community and the substantial investment in equipment when the district does not have a decent facility to house it. Cuddeback also said the nonprofits believed there is a need to explore the most cost effective solutions for providing effective fire protection to residents and examine the efficiency and costs of maintaining two fire districts in one town.

Deerfield fire department serves the Old Deerfield village, East Deerfield and West Deerfield. The larger and better equipped South Deerfield Fire District on Routes 5 and 10 serves the southern part of town.

“When I sat down with the schools, we discussed the issue of volunteerism. It is not just a problem here but a problem for every fire department in the country,” said Prudential Committee member Patrick O’Bryan.

There are currently 18 active fire volunteers with 24 on the roster.

Part of the problem is trying to get the faculty of the schools to volunteer. In at least the past six years, O’Bryan said, volunteering for the fire district was frowned upon by the schools.

“We discussed changing that,” O’Bryan said.

Recently, Deerfield Academy agreed to allow a new employee to continue serving on the fire department.

“We’d like to see that expanded and for them to encourage their people to join the fire department and become a part of this,” O’Bryan said.

Tom Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms on Upper Road said Old Deerfield was a different place 30 years ago.

“I think we need to be closer in relationship with South Deerfield,” Clark said. “Financially, it’d make sense to have one fire department in town. Politically, it’s a whole new ball of wax.”

The town is unusual in that it has two fire districts and two water districts split between South Deerfield and Old Deerfield, a division that has represented political and economic differences between the two parts of town for generations.

Years ago, O’Bryan said, he chaired a committee charged with examining the consolidation of fire services.

“One of the facts that came out of that was that this district is money poor, people rich. South Deerfield is money rich, people poor,” O’Bryan said. “How’d that shake up in the end, I don’t know. Things could change in South Deerfield. Things could change here.

“We do need to make some changes,” O’Bryan said. “We do want to make changes and look to have discussions with the nonprofits and taxpayers.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com 413-772-0261 ext. 268 on Twitter follow @RecorderKatMcK

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