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Residents determine fate of Village of Prospect Fire Dept.

By ANNA MEILER

VILLAGE OF PROSPECT, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Residents voted Tuesday on whether to keep or dissolve the fire department in the Village of Prospect.

It's a situation the mayor called complex and emotionally straining. The fire department and village are both at risk of bankruptcy following a workers compensation case, filed in 2008 by a firefighter who hurt her foot.

The village has been paying her since and now has to decide whether or not to pay a settlement of over $100,000. But the financial blow comes from the hike in the village's workers compensation insurance premiums.

If the village accepts the settlement, they'll be paying more than $443,000- a total that includes the settlement payment and hike in insurance premiums. If they don't accept the settlement, premiums will rise over $44,000 a year and stay there for the lifetime of the injured fire-fighter.

The mayor said the small village that brings in $28,000 in taxes a year simply can't afford those gauging expenses and certainly can't risk the possibility of another firefighter getting hurt. They're already dealing with a second workman's comp claim, filed earlier this month.

"For us to keep the fire company and should their be another claim, those premiums will go through the roof. It just comes down to fiscal disaster," said Mayor Frances Righi.

Weeks after the village board voted unanimously to abolish the fire department, residents are getting their say.

"The fire company in the past has been wonderful. I'm not meaning to demean them in any way, but I think their services are very limited at this point and we'll get the coverage that we need," said a resident who voted at the referendum Tuesday.

If the fire department is dissolved, residents will still be protected by surrounding towns and the building could be used as a substation.

"We will still have a firehouse here. It will be manned. Remsen and Barneveld are both in place to cover us, fire protection," said Righi.

But some voters said having a fire department in the village is crucial for their safety.

"The coverage we have now is really good for our community. We have a lot of elderly people in the community and we don't want to lose a second you know," said Mark Munafo, a resident in the Village of Prospect.

But, the village hopes to sell it and use the money to offset the compensation costs. If it stays, the mayor said village itself could go bankrupt.

"The state is looking at us hard right now, looking to see- and I think that if we abolish our fire company and get out, get away from the liability, that there's probably things that will come our way to help us alleviate the burden. But, I think if the voters vote to keep their fire company that the powers above will leave us twisting in the wind and that huge amount of money will settle down on 129 houses," said Righi.

Righi said if the department stays, taxes will inevitably rise "through the roof."

We reached out to the Village of Prospect Fire Chief Wayne Premo, but he has yet to return our phone calls.

Voting ends at 9 p.m.

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