Two longtime members of the local fire department, Michael Lourenso and Peter Carberry, will vie in an upcoming election for the seat currently held by Lourenso on the Woodstock Fire District’s board of commissioners, which oversees the affairs of the department, including its annual budget.
Voting will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13, at Fire Company No. 1, located at 242 Tinker Street. All registered voters who reside in the district, whose boundaries nearly coincide with the town’s, are eligible to cast ballots. Fire commissioners, who are volunteers, serve a term of five years. Lourenso’s term, his first, expires on December 31.
The district’s budget is funded by all taxpayers and is subject neither to voter approval nor modification by the Town Board. Property taxes account for all but $16,000 of the 2012 spending plan’s total appropriations of $1.2 million. The budget, which was recently adopted, raises taxes by slightly less than 2 percent over the 2011 level, thus complying with the new statewide cap on property tax increases.
The five-member board of commissioners meets on the second Thursday of each month, at the Company No. 1 firehouse. In addition to preparing the budget, the board oversees the training and discipline of the department’s firefighters, the acquisition and maintenance of its equipment, and the upkeep of its firehouses. The commissioners also establish wage levels for the district’s seven paid employees: one full-time and one part-time paramedic, a chief clerical worker, the district’s secretary/treasurer, two maintenance workers, and a mechanic.
With the exception of the paramedics, who are members of Company No. 5, known as the rescue squad, the department’s 170 firefighters are unpaid volunteers. Nevertheless, the volunteers are eligible to receive a pension based on length of service. That benefit represents an appropriation of $150,000 in the 2012 district budget. The $256,700 total cost of employee benefits, including the retirement plan, accounts for approximately a quarter of the budget.
In recent interviews both Lourenso and Carberry emphasized the importance of maintaining a volunteer-based local fire department. “We have got to keep our volunteers, or our budget will go through the roof,” said Lourenso, a retired New York Police Department detective squad sergeant who has been a Woodstock homeowner for 15 years. If reelected, he said, he would strive to maintain the fire department as a robust but affordable volunteer service, with any future tax increases held below the 2 percent threshold.
Lourenso’s fire department service includes 14 years with Company No. 2 (Wittenberg), in which he is a former first lieutenant, and 10 years with Company No. 5, in which he is a certified first responder. He also is a certified fire police officer. In addition, Lourenso teaches an AARP driver safety course sponsored by the Woodstock Public Library and is vice president of the Good Neighbor Food Pantry, a member of the Comeau Trails Task Force, and an instructor in CPR and first aid with the American Red Cross.
“It would be an honor to serve the community and help with the tax burden. I love Woodstock; it’s a tapestry of a lot of kindness,” said Carberry, a local resident since 1997. He described his campaign for a seat on the board of commissioners as nonpolitical. “It’s a volunteer job,” he said. “I am a strong supporter of our volunteer firefighters. The fire district budget will continue to be tight. It is very important that our firefighters are well take care of, both mentally and physically, even if we have to cut back on equipment.”
Carberry, a painting contractor and the town’s deputy zoning enforcement officer, joined Company No. 2 of the fire department 14 years ago and has held the rank of captain for the last seven years. He is a longtime volunteer with the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross. In the latter capacity he volunteered his services at Ground Zero in the months following the September 11 attack in 2001. He described the experience as “depressing but rewarding.”
A thousand calls a year
The Woodstock Fire District was established in 1906. Its assets include five firehouses and roughly 25 pieces of equipment including vehicles. The fire department’s five companies provide fire protection and paramedic EMS services to approximately 6,300 residents over a response area of 69 square miles. In recent years the department has responded to nearly a thousand incidents annually.
The other four members of the board of commissioners are James Brunner, the chairman, whose term expires at the end of 2013; Donald Allen (2014); Trevor Paton (2015); and Arthur Rose (2012).++