To be or not to be a joint fire district

For more than eight months, officials from the fire districts of the villages of Fayetteville and Manlius have met to discuss the possibility of creating a joint fire district by Jan 1, 2010. But before the idea can get off the ground in the form of public hearings, all four town and village boards must agree to move forward.

"If one municipality says no at any point in the process, it's over," said Fayetteville Mayor Mark Olson, who has presented a memo of understanding to each board involved that outlines the agreements so far among the towns and villages.

The villages of Fayetteville and Manlius, together with the towns of Pompey and Manlius, aim to improve services while reducing costs for the 20,000 residents within the two fire districts. They would maintain their own separate identities but operate under the umbrella of one organization to consolidate equipment, staff and services.

Minoa and Kirkville, the two other fire districts within the town of Manlius, were both asked to take part in the consolidation but opted out. Their departments are structured differently from those of Fayetteville and Manlius, which established a 24/7 mutual aid agreement last year.

The town of Manlius has turned before to consolidation to address rising costs and efficiency of services for community safety. This project is the biggest consolidation since the village police departments merged in 1985, which took eight months to bring to fruition, Olson said. The joint fire district is much more complex, he said, as the preliminary talks have already taken so long.

"Manlius struggles with the same issues we struggle with, so it made sense to look at consolidating to try to control those costs," Olson said of the fire districts. "And it's not going to get any better. It's going to get worse before it gets better."

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