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Plan rejected by Calcium Fire District residents for $800,000 firetruck to combat tall fires on Route 11

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Voters in the Calcium Fire District on Wednesday rejected a proposition to borrow money needed to buy an $800,000 aerial firetruck.

The district’s board of commissioners said the vehicle, with its 75-foot ladder, is needed to fight fires at tall hotels and commercial buildings on Route 11.

Drawing a small voter turnout at the Calcium Fire Department, the referendum was defeated 31-16.

“It was a very small turnout, and I don’t think we did a great job of educating people about what the vote pertained to,” said Daniel P. Drappo, chairman of the board of commissioners. “I think there were a few people that had misinformation handed to them, and a number of people showed up because of the negative things said word-of-mouth. We hope to try again after disseminating information to everyone in the district and host a public meeting in the next couple of weeks.”

The district board started saving to pay for the aerial firetruck in 2008, when the four-story Candlewood Suites Hotel north of Walmart on Route 11 was built. At the time, the board decided the truck was needed to combat fires at the hotel, along with other tall commercial buildings to be built on Route 11 in the future. Extended ladders owned by the department max out at 28 feet and can only accommodate two-story structures.

That year, the board created a special commercial zone on Route 11 within the Calcium Fire District to collect additional taxes from businesses.

The commercial zone runs north from the intersection at Route 342 to Anable Avenue. Businesses within that district pay taxes both for the commercial zone and fire district; about 10 households are also taxed twice, because they happen to be located within the commercial zone.

The commercial zone fund now has about $340,000 earmarked to purchase the ladder truck.

In addition, the board plans to sell the district’s 24-year-old fire tanker for about $100,000, which the aerial truck will replace. To cover the remainder of the estimated cost, residents would need to approve a referendum to acquire a loan or bond, Mr. Drappo said.

In addition to Candlewood Suites, the only other buildings on Route 11 that may need the truck during a fire are Walmart and the three-story Days Inn hotel.

Right now, if a fire occurs that requires an aerial truck, the Calcium Fire Department depends on mutual aid from neighboring fire departments that own taller ladder trucks. The Fort Drum Fire Department is about two miles away, the Black River Fire Department is four miles away and the City of Watertown Fire Department is six and a half miles away.

Some residents who voted against the proposal for the aerial truck believe Calcium’s fire department should rely on help from its neighbors, said LeRay Supervisor Ronald C. Taylor. The odd part about residents’ opposition to the proposal, he said, is that money for the aerial truck is raised almost exclusively from businesses within the commercial zone paying an additional tax; only about 10 residents who live within the zone pay taxes toward the aerial truck.

“It’s an interesting issue, because only the residents are allowed to vote, and most of the business owners don’t live there. Yet they’re the ones that have been contributing to the fund to buy this truck,” Mr. Taylor said.

The 2013 Calcium Fire District tax rate paid by all property owners within the district is $1.41 per thousand dollars of assessed value; the additional tax rate paid by property owners within the commercial zone is 76 cents per thousand.

Mr. Drappo said he hopes the proposal will be approved in a second referendum this fall.

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