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New report recommends fire district mergers in Erie County

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WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
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County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz discusses overlapping fire districts

By Eileen Buckley

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-907995.mp3

Buffalo, NY – A new report recommends Erie County consider merging or consolidating its volunteer fire departments. County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz released a study on fire protection spending.

Click the audio player above to hear Eileen Buckley's full story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.

As the County's top fiscal watch dog, Poloncarz says County taxpayers shell out more than $130 million a year to to pay for fire service. Nearly $78 million is spent in the City of Buffalo. More than $46 million goes to suburban volunteer companies.

There are 115-fire districts with 98-fire companies. The study reveals that some towns and villages have more fire companies than others. Amherst and Cheektowaga each have ten -- while towns like Marillia and Sardina have just one fire company.

"We're basically relying on a system which was created in the horse and buggy days," said Poloncarz.

Poloncarz is urging County leaders, area supervisors and mayors to examine a possible merger.

"And most importantly I call on the fire chiefs from all of these districts to begin this discussion. It is important we

"This is a comptroller that is meddling where he has no right to meddle," said Collins.

County Executive Chris Collins is not in favor of changing or merging the fire districts and is sending a letter to all the fire chiefs.

"We're hand in glove with these volunteer firemen all the time. We need to make sure they know this is not moving forward as an initiative of Erie County," noted Collins.

Collins fears it would threaten public safety and create higher taxes in the long run.

Poloncarz disagrees. He said in no way is this study to diminish the importance of the vital fire service. But he admits it is a politically sensitive topic.

"This report may be political suicide for me," said Poloncarz.

Collins believes Poloncarz has opened a political can of worms with this study.

"I don't know why he would pick this fight," said Collins.

Collins believes it would be fiscally irresponsible. He says county residents would be forced to absorb labor costs associated with paid fire departments, like the City of Buffalo.