Voters last week rejected a $5.6 million referendum that would have reconstruction Cicero Fire Department Station No. 1 on Route 11.
A total of 264 people in the Cicero Fire District turned out to vote on the proposal, with 180 voting against and 84 voting in favor. The project would have made significant repairs to Station No. 1, addressing significant structural issues as well as asbestos on the second floor and numerous safety concerns for the volunteer firefighters in the department. The reconstruction would have renovated the community hall, repaved the parking lot, expanded the apparatus bays and moved them behind the station hall and parking lot so that fire apparatus wouldn’t have to pull out directly onto Route 11. The proposal would have cost taxpayers within the fire district, which covers about a one-mile radius from Station 1, about $75 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The all-volunteer department, founded in 1883, has a total of 65 members and covers 12 square miles between the Cicero Fire District and the Cicero Fire Protection District. It has two stations, Station 1 at the four corners of Route 31 and Route 11, and Station 2 near Cicero-North Syracuse High School. The department responded to more than 1,000 calls in 2013.
The department provides protection to the entire town, but only a small portion of that is within its fire district. Cicero also has four other fire districts (Brewerton, South Bay, North Syracuse and Bridgeport). All five also contract with the town to provide protection to the areas outside their specified district. Residents within that fire district pay taxes that help support the department. They would also have paid for the reconstruction of Station No. 1, had the referendum passed.
Cicero Fire Commissioner Jim Perrin said he believed confusion over the tax rate between the fire district and the fire protection district led to the defeat of the referendum.
““We feel this vote was not rejecting the new station or the price or size, but this turned into a vote about tax rates and the difference in the district tax rate and the protection tax rate that the town sets, which the district has no control over,” Perrin said. “[Voters kept telling us], ‘You need this station, and the price is not high, but it needs to be paid fairly by both district and protection taxpayers.’”
But the Board of Fire Commissioners has no control over the tax rate set outside the fire district.
“The down side to this is we cannot control the protection tax and what the town board gives us from that and if they raise the rate or not,” Perrin said.
Perrin said the department was surprised by the outcome of the vote and by the reasons for the rejection.
“It is upsetting that it came down to a tax vote and not a vote based on our needs. We had some town residents go out of their way campaigning against us and making this the issue and not worrying about or volunteers’ safety,” he said. “That stings a little. We put our lives on the line every day for the community and we do a great job and all our residents tell us this, but we defined an immediate safety issue, and it was ignored for an issue that really needs to be taken and addressed to the town hall.”
Perrin said the department is currently exploring other options, as the safety concerns at the station still need to be addressed.
“We will do what is necessary to protect our members and keep them as safe as possible,” Perrin said. “Our concern and fear is the safety issue we have ignored with this vote. [We’re afraid] one of our members is going to get hurt. I’m not sure of any impact [on] the taxpayers [or how they] will feel [about it], but this is our priority first and will remain our priority.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.