Written by MICHAEL LoCICERO
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 20:38
Town officials suggest unneeded offices be given to fire department
While there are still several obstacles to clear, it appears the Village of Belgium is on the verge of donating the space it owns at the old Village Hall to the Belgium Fire Department.
The village is renting the space to groups like the Scouts who are using it for meetings and other events, but doesn’t want the arrangement to become permanent.
“I’m not sure we want to be in the business of being a landlord,” Village Trustee Clem Gottsacker said on Monday during a joint meeting with the village, Town of Belgium and fire department.
The village owns 22% of the building at 195 Commerce St. but moved its municipal offices across town late last year and the space has been vacant since.
Town of Belgium officials, who technically don’t own any of the building despite paying 60% of utility and maintenance costs on the building the fire department uses, have asked village officials to consider donating the space.
“The building was purchased for the fire department,” Town Supr. Bill Janeshek said.
“It’s time to straighten this mess out. We think the right and fair thing to do is to give it to the fire department.”
The village and town share fire department services, but when the building was purchased in the late 1970s, the title to the building was made only in the village’s name.
Village officials seem to agree that the best thing to do is to donate the portion it owns, but it appears there are some legal hurdles to clear before doing so.
The village has a right to declare the portion of the building it owns surplus property, Village Attorney Gerry Antoine said.
“The law says if you are going to get rid of something, you have to decide you don’t need it and can donate something for a ‘public purpose,’” he said.
“I would think giving a portion of a building to a fire department would be for a public purpose.”
Fire department representatives said it could use the extra space, but can’t afford to pay for maintenance.
“If you guys are going to donate it, we would accept it, but we can’t be doing fundraisers to pay for the maintenance on an essential service,” Fire Chief Dan Birenbaum said.
The town and village share costs for the fire department based on equalized property value. The village currently pays all costs related to the 22% of the building it owns and 40% of the remainder of the building.
Maintenance and utility costs on the proposed donated space is about $17,000 annually, Birenbaum said.
Town Chairman Tom Winker also suggested that both governments sign an agreement that states “who owes what every year.”
“We’ve had a gentleman’s agreement for a long time, but this is 2015. We need something in writing,” Winker said.
Winker asked village officials to “come to a consensus” on the space and meet in June to formalize an agreement.