Fire district vote raises questions

To the Editor:

The article in last week’s Enterprise concerning the Guilderland Fire District’s referendum on a bond vote would be a good topic of discussion in civics — if the schools still taught civics.

The fire district wants to finance an expansion project by floating a bond that has to be approved by the residents.  The district was required to place legal notices in The Enterprise, which was done, and also on the town’s website, which was not done.

The vote was held. Seventy-seven people voted and by a vote of 45 to 32 approved the bond, thereby causing homeowners to pay on average an additional $69.93 a year for 15 years in taxes.

A resident, Linda Chaffee, sought to have the vote invalidated due to the failure to provide required noticing.

David Messercola, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, acknowledged the failure to provide notice on the town website but, upon conferring with the board members and legal counsel, determined the lapse was minor and would not set aside the vote.  The chairman was quoted as being insulted and offended by Ms. Chaffee questioning the validity of the vote.

A total of 77 persons voted.  According to the district’s website there are 44 members in the fire department.  It is not unreasonable to assume most of them voted and most of them voted in favor of the bond.  

So — a number of questions are raised over this incident. Here are some of them:

— 1. Should Ms. Chaffee not have brought to light that taxpayers were not properly noticed?

— 2. Should an official be offended by a citizen questioning a legality?

— 3. Should those who make the error be the judges of whether the error was significant?

— 4. Should such a small showing of voters incur a large debt on the larger group of residents?

— 5. Was the small voter turnout a result of voter apathy or was it possible they never got the word that the bond issue was being voted on?

— 6. How many eligible voters are there in the fire district?

— 7. Do more people read the legal notices in the newspaper or on the town website?

— 8. Should there be a minimum voter turnout for the vote to be valid?

— 9. What steps can be taken in addition to the official requirements to get the word out to the residents?

Perhaps there is a teacher out there who would like to have a class discussion of these questions.

In any event, in my opinion, placing a notice in the paper but not on the town website makes the district half right and Ms. Chaffee in bringing this issue to the fore, 100-percent right.

Please be assured that none of this detracts from the dedication of the volunteer membership who answer the calls. To them, we offer our heartfelt thanks.

James J. Williams
Guilderland