A detailed analysis is out of what fire services cost taxpayers in Ontario County

BLOOMFIELD — How much you pay for fire service is all over the map in Ontario County. Just take a look at a full-blown analysis just released by two county residents with a passion for shining the light on how government affects taxpayers. 

“The goal is to get the discussion going,” said former Bloomfield village trustee Francis Coleman. Coleman, who retired from careers in aerospace engineering and telecommunications and Internet law, joined forces with East Bloomfield resident Bill Compton to produce the study through Ontario County Values, Inc.

OCVI is an independent, not-for-profit corporation formed to compare costs of local government services in Ontario County. The fire cost report is the first of many the men plan to produce on a regular basis through OCVI.

Compton said he hopes the first study and future ones might help local governments save money and better serve their communities and taxpayers. The fire service study could help simplify “any unnecessarily complex arrangements for fire service across the county,” added Compton, a retired construction cost estimator who was a town assessor and chairman of the East Bloomfield Board of Fire Commissioners.

OCVI studies are nonpartisan, do not advocate a viewpoint and are free to the public on the OCVI website. “We do not solicit and will not accept funds from those who are the subjects of our studies,” according to a press release. The intention is to update the studies annually, including the first one on fire costs.

“I really applaud their efforts,” said Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni. She is on OCVI's nonprofit advisory board along with retired Ontario County administrator John Hicks.

Polimeni called the fire study “intriguing” and “comprehensive.” She said it helps to look at fire service from a more regional perspective.

Coleman said the study was intended to look close to home rather than to Albany to manage costs falling on taxpayers.

"New York State's high state and local taxes have made it a discouraging environment for the private sector,” said Coleman. "Other states are competing with us for investment and talent. Too often, the goose that used to lay its golden eggs here is now nesting elsewhere."

The fire service study shows through maps, charts and graphs, how costs vary dramatically across the county. Ontario County has 52 fire service areas; 33 fire departments provide services either by mandate or contract. With many variables involved, taxpayers in some fire service areas pay several times the fire service tax rate that taxpayers in other fire service areas pay. In some cases, taxpayers in one jurisdiction are subsidizing taxpayers in other areas.

“Most fire services in Ontario County are funded by property taxes and although fire services are not the largest part of a typical property tax bill, they can be significant and they can vary widely,” said Coleman.

A letter sent to officials countywide in November introduced OCVI, its mission, the fire study and future plans. Compton and Coleman explained that they conduct their studies, as volunteers, to the best of their ability and using publicly available information. They welcome input and look forward to hearing what folks think.

Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Marren said the study is “an eye-opener,” providing useful information about fire service costs. He said such costs and a declining number of volunteers are concerns locally and regionally.

Marren wants to eventually bring the study before the county Public Safety Committee for review. The Victor town supervisor added that he will also seek input on the study from county leaders in planning, emergency management, the 911 center and others. After looking at costs, a focus on services and response times would be a next step, Marren said.

 

By the numbers

Highest fire tax rates in Ontario County, per $1,000 of assessed valuation

$7.46 City of Geneva

$4.94 Hall Fire District

$3.00 Ionia Fire Protection District in West Bloomfield

SOURCE: Ontario County Values, Inc.