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Fire contract generates more questions

PENN YAN—A village resident, Robert Hawley, obtained records of the Penn Yan Fire Department through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) due to his concerns that funds from the $42,500 contract between the Village of Penn Yan and the fire department were used incorrectly and that the contract was not given village board approval.
Hawley said he was asked about the fire contract by a trustee because the contract was only signed once in eight years. Hawley said he found department members had paid themselves and that he feels they had abused the money from the contract. He said he had spoken to an attorney for the New York Department of State regarding municipal law, specifically the volunteer firemen benefit law and that just six items were allowed to be paid including training, gas mileage, food and lodging. Hawley said once the village board knows about the problem and a liability has been created they have to go after whoever made the payments. He said the payments were done wrong and the village must take action to recoup the money.
Hawley also said the only contract that was signed during the past five years was signed without permission of the village board. He said he has not talked to current chief Rick Retorick, but has spoken to some rank and file members of the department who didn’t know what was going on. He said, “My take is it’s a slush fund.”
Former fire chief and current village trustee Bart Winslow Jr. provided some background on the contract. Winslow said the funds have been provided to the department since at least the 1960s when $40,000 was provided to the department. That was the amount of the contract when Winslow was fire chief from 1983 until 1985. Winslow said the money is supposed to be the pay to the fire department to provide people to run the fire department. He said, “It’s spent to take care of the firemen.”
There are four fire companies within the Penn Yan fire department and each company receives $2,500 a year from the fund. The emergency squad also receives some of the money and occasionally the department auxiliary as well, according to Winslow. Some of the money is used to purchase office supplies and equipment related to running the office. Some of the money is used to support attendance at fire conventions. Winslow said, for example, if the department is planning to replace equipment, the conventions are also attended by equipment manufacturers and provide a good opportunity to see the range of equipment available. Another use of some of the money, for example, was purchase of lunches during three days recently for emergency workers who volunteered to search for village resident Lynn Whitaker.
Winslow said the fire department has three funds: the contract fund, a special event fund and an account that holds a two percent rebate from the state of New York that has been charged by the state to unincorporated insurance companies.
Fire chiefs must keep a variety of records for the department and Winslow said some chiefs track things better than others. Winslow said instead of coming to the fire chief with any questions, 800 pages of receipts for the regular fund for the chief to run the fire department were obtained by Hawley through the FOIL process.

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