Correction: Penn Yan Board seeks support for fire service plan

Gwen Chamberlain

Correction: This article has been corrected to remove reference to a New York State Comptroller's Audit. The LOSAP program was not audited by the comptroller's office.

The Penn Yan Village Board is asking the New York State Assembly and Senate to pass legislation that will legalize the length of service program that was in use from Jan. 1, 1999 until Dec. 31, 2011.

The LOSAP program came under fire last year by then Trustee Wayne Davidson after research into the system and corresponding law revealed that the village board was not properly overseeing the program and that the Penn Yan points system was not in compliance with the system established by the state.

The village board first asked Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano in December to help resolve problems in managing the points system.

Davidson, who stepped down from the board last December, has filed a second lawsuit against the village regarding the actions it has taken so far. A previous lawsuit was dismissed.

The board’s latest action, adopted May 15, asks the state lawmakers to “legalize, validate, ratify and confirm” all village proceedings taken by the village.

In December, the board passed resolutions to approve a new point system that follows the current state points system, as well as a resolution approving the point system that was used through 2011. The previous point system had been stricter than the state’s system, according to Mayor Robert Church. The board also certified lists of volunteers who qualified for LOSAP benefits with enough points each year.

Upon hearing the May 15 action, Davidson provided a comment via email.

He said the village board and fire department leadership is seeking a special law that “forgives the present and past members of the village board and the leadership of the fire department for their failure to do their job in a lawful manner.

“I am very disappointed that the Mayor (Robert) Church and the trustees believe that the village taxpayers and taxpayers of the fire prevention districts served by the PYFD should be required to fund a Service Award program that they knew did not comply with the laws of New York State.

“I am also very disappointed that Senator O’Mara would sponsor and advocate for a law that, if enacted, will send a signal to those New York State Volunteer Fire Departments that have faithfully adhered to the laws governing LOSAP, that there is no consequences imposed on those Volunteer Fire Departments who fail to follow applicable laws,” he wrote.

Davidson explains that he has heard of concerns that if the current LOSAP is deemed illegal, many fire department volunteers could lose benefits.

“However, if this happens, it is not the fault of the taxpayers. They have to look no further than the past and present leadership of the PYFD and the past and present members of the Penn Yan village board in order to place the blame where it belongs,” he continued, saying these leaders let down the rank and file members of the fire department and deceived taxpayers.

He says O’Mara and Church should explain to taxpayers in the village and in the fire protection districts covered by the Penn Yan Fire Department were required to fund a program that consumed $800,000 in tax dollars but was not in compliance with state laws.

Davidson’s initial lawsuit against the village sought to end the program and to send funds spent on the program to back  to the village taxpayers.

In the second lawsuit, he is asking the court to nullify the resolutions. The first resolution ratified the point system developed by the fire companies when the LOSAP program was established. The second adopts a point system effective beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

The suit is on Thursday’s calendar in Judge Dennis Bender’s Yates County Civil Court.

To begin the program, village voters approved, through a public referendum in 1998, the system that provides pension-type payments for volunteer firefighters who earn enough points over a specific time period.