After several years of failed negotiations, firefighters from the Merrick Fire Department say they are determined to get a new contract from the Town of Hempstead this year.
“The volunteers of the Merrick Fire Department have stomached all they can from the elected officials of the Town of Hempstead, their paid consultants and attorney’s scare tactics and political agendas,” wrote Ron Luparello, public information officer for the Merrick Fire Department and an ex-Department chief, in an email.
Luparello said that the Town’s contract with the Department for fire and ambulance services has remained frozen at 2008 levels since 2009, when the Department agreed to a one-year contract in return for a promise from Town officials to begin negotiating a contract for beyond the year.
The Merrick Fire Department, which is made up of about 130 volunteer firefighters based at three different engine companies around Merrick, currently has a $1.47 million contract with the Town to provide for its fire protection services. The Town also provides other monies to the Department that cover things like hydrant rentals, worker’s compensation, service awards and debt financing, for a total budget of $2.74 million this year. In 2007, prior to the contract freeze, the Department’s contract was worth $1.4 million and its total budget was $2.84 million.
Mike Deery, spokesman for the Town of Hempstead, wrote in an email that negotiations with Merrick Fire Department’s firefighters are ongoing and that the Town will “continue to work toward an agreement that funds fire protection services at the lowest possible cost for taxpayers.”
But Luparello and T.J. Fernandez, another ex-chief who continues to volunteer with the Merrick Fire Department, asserted that the Town is not negotiating in good faith.
Both men said that Town officials have indicated in numerous meetings in recent years their interest in turning Merrick into a “special taxing district” for fire protection purposes. Luparello said he believes the officials’ motive for doing so is to pass taxing responsibility for Merrick’s fire services to a board of fire commissioners and thereafter claim they had lowered Town taxes.