OXFORD – While preparing a five-year financial plan for the area's fire district due by the end of the year, the Village of Oxford was unable to come up with a plan or estimate long-term costs.
The issue: The Oxford fire station is located on Main Street along the banks of the Chenango River and by the Main Street bridge. Erosion of the river bank has eaten into the fire department's property and may eventually threaten the current fire station and other storage buildings located there. The concern has combined with other issues facing the department and complicated fiscal predictions.
A public forum will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, August 5, at the Oxford Fire Station on Main Street to discuss the problem. Officials said the public will be allowed to ask questions.
The Oxford Fire Department is also facing the same challenges as many volunteer departments. It needs to upgrade the fire station, buy up-to-date equipment, and cover the growing costs of health effects and insurance for volunteers.
Village Mayor Terry Stark said those challenges were not uncommon for the municipality to handle, even though challenging. But the erosion issue is compounding all the others into a difficult time-frame that needs to be dealt with soon in order to get ahead of the problem.
“I wouldn't say it has anything to do with climate change or anything, but the river bank in Oxford, next to the fire station, has been eroding. This has been an ongoing problem for the last 10 years or even longer,” said Stark.
The mayor said he, the fire department, and the village board were working on a new five-year plan in October last year and it became apparent over the following months that the fire station was facing serious issues.
After several sessions, the group did come up with a workable budget that would probably fall under the two percent tax, and hence be acceptable to the towns covered in the district, including the Town of Oxford and parts of Preston and Smithville.
But the mayor said the long-term issues are too important and costly to ignore and hopes those towns will help pay for a part of the possible costs.
“It may be more than they are used to,” he said.
“The chief came back and said 'we have real problems,'” said Stark.
In addition to other issues, "we have bank erosion out here on the river that's going to threaten, at some point in time, the structure of the building,” explained Stark. “So the bank erosion is an issue, how do we protect the bank, and long term ensure the fire station is stable.”
“So what happened is we couldn't come up with a viable estimate of what these things might cost over the 10 or 15 years,” said Stark. Stark said the village had experience with operating costs, insurance, line items and utilities; but he admitted “we are not good as a village board or fire department in understanding how much it will it cost to fix the erosion on the bank, or what is the right solution.”
The village has hired a consultant and will be making a presentation about these issues and a possible plan on Monday.
“We could not come up with a number we were confident with. We decided we need a professional consultant to come in and give us guidance, what are the rules and regulations regarding the fire services and what will be implemented over the next 10 years in NY State,” said Stark.
The mayor said all solutions to the issue were being considered, and he had not ruled out moving the station's location altogether.
The Village of Oxford released a public service announcement earlier this week:
The board and Oxford Fire Department established a facilities review committee and contracted with Hueber-Breuer Fire Services Company to conduct a study.
This study will assess the existing and future infrastructure needs of Fire District 23.
This full assessment includes the riverbank erosion, existing conditions of fire station facilities and an analysis of how the station can best meet the long-term-needs of district residents and the fire department.
The study objective is to analyze the current district infrastructure, evaluate the immediate and future needs of the fire district, and produce a fiscally responsible plan that satisfies those needs for the next 40 to 50 years.
The safety of district residents and department members is a primary concern of the committee. The final product of this study will be a Facilities Master Plan.
The committee consists of members of the village board, fire council, Fire and EMS department. Hueber-Breuer will facilitate the six-month process culminating with the submission of a Master Plan in December of 2019. The committee will gather information regarding the current and future needs of the fire district without bias to any particular solution.
The goals are to educate the committee to current conditions of buildings and grounds, inform district taxpayers through public forums of the condition of the buildings and grounds, and reaffirm the fire department’s role in protecting the community while also maintaining high safety standards for all department members.