Voters in an upcoming election will choose one of four candidates to fill a single vacancy on the Board of Fire Commissioners, the governing body of the Woodstock Fire District, which levies property taxes that fund the operations of the local volunteer fire department.
The candidates, all members of the department, are Jim Dougherty, Bill Facompre, Mike Lourenso, and Duncan Wilson. Voting will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11, at the Company No. 1 firehouse, 242 Tinker Street.
Fire commissioners serve a term of five years. A major responsibility of the five-member, volunteer Board of Fire Commissioners (BFC) is the preparation and adoption of the district’s annual budget, which is not subject to voter approval and cannot be altered or rejected by the Town Board.
The BFC recently adopted a 2013 budget of approximately $1.25 million, which raises the tax levy by 2.98 percent but complies with the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases, according to fire district officials. The budget supports the firefighting and emergency medical services provided by the fire department’s five companies, which comprise about 175 members; compensates approximately 16 paid employees of the district; and funds the district’s Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP), a deferred-benefit retirement plan for volunteer firefighters.
The candidates in the December 11 election are seeking to fill the seat of commissioner Arthur Rose, whose term expires at the end of the year. The other commissioners are James Brunner, the BFC’s chairman; Donald Allen; Peter Carberry; and Trevor Paton.
Following are profiles of the four candidates, who in written statements and recent interviews detailed their positions on the work of the BFC and issues facing the fire district.
Jim Dougherty. A resident of Shady since 1997, Dougherty, 64, cited two major objectives of his BFC candidacy: working with fellow commissioners to maintain oversight and control over district finances and bolstering the recruitment of volunteer firefighters. “Woodstock is fortunate in not having to endure the hardship of (paying) increased taxes to support a paid fire department,” he said in a statement.
Dougherty is a scene support firefighter, fire police lieutenant, and five-year member of Company No. 3 (Lake Hill). He is a director of the company and has served as its treasurer for the past year. His discovery of irregularities in the company’s financial records led to an audit and investigation by the state comptroller that resulted in the arrest of Company No. 3’s former treasurer, Dale Hughes, who faces a charge of grand larceny in connection with the alleged theft of more than $200,000 in company funds. In the aftermath of that incident, Dougherty created a so-called Best Practice Guide and initiated other measures to provide the oversight of the company’s finances, which he would recommend for districtwide adoption.
In general, said Dougherty, the BFC “has done an excellent job” of financial stewardship. “They do run the fire department frugally. The commissioners I have spoken with favor keeping expenses down while meeting the department’s needs. My goal is to make sure that financial controls are in place and to be conservative about spending.”
Dougherty has extensive experience in banking, as a specialist in management and financial controls, and real estate. He has worked as a licensed real estate broker for more than 40 years and currently owns a company that specializes in loss mitigation. He has served as a director of seven corporations. Dougherty also has served as an emergency medical technician in New York City, is a United States Merchant Marine officer, and holds a Coast Guard captain’s license. As a local volunteer he has held positions on the Woodstock Ethics Board, the town’s task force on emergency response, and the administrative council of the Shady Methodist Church. He is a former director and treasurer of the Good Neighbor Food Pantry.
“Demographic factors of a population that consists of many second-home owners who are part-time residents, coupled with an aging population and a lack of employment opportunities locally, has caused our membership of working firefighters to diminish,” said Dougherty in a written statement. The Shady resident proposes to enhance local recruitment through the district’s participation in the FASNY (Firemen’s Association of the State of New York) program, which publicizes the advantages of volunteering, such as local property tax offsets, college tuition reimbursement, state income tax considerations, free health checkups and accident insurance, and eligibility for LOSAP benefits. The cost to Woodstock of a paid fire department, arising from a shortage of volunteers, would be as much as six times greater than the town’s current outlay, he said.
Bill Facompre. If elected, said Facompre, a longtime Woodstock resident who for more than 35 years has owned and operated a local contracting business, he would seek to rectify several shortcomings in the management and operation of the fire district and fire department. He has criticized the BFC for inefficiency and a lack of transparency, charging that the board makes decisions in violation of the state Open Meetings Law. Facompre, 59, is a 23-year member of Company No. 4 (Zena), where he has held the positions of president, lieutenant, and captain.
On the issue of safety, Facompre maintained that fire department officials including the chief, Mike Densen, have failed to adhere to standardized “incident command” procedures formulated by FEMA under the National Incident Management System (NIMS), despite the fact that Woodstock firefighters are expected to undergo NIMS training.
According to Facompre, the local department’s chiefs — Densen and two subordinates — often involve themselves directly in the response to a fire or other emergency, thus failing to function as incident commanders who are readily accessible at a known location on the scene. “Mike Densen says that this is the way we have always done things, but it becomes an unsafe situation, with no accountability,” said Facompre. “If there is an investigation of an incident, command procedures are the first thing that is looked at.”
Densen rebutted the charge in a December 5 interview. “You can have incident command without a specific structure in certain circumstances, like a chimney blowout, while you might want a more formal structure in other situations,” said Densen. He continued: “I would take anything Mr. Facompre says with a grain of salt. Company No. 4 has the worst record of NIMS (mandatory training) compliance in the whole department, with 16 of its 41 members noncompliant. I sent memos about this to Bill Facompre, as the Company No. 4 captain, in 2011, but no action has been taken yet.”
Toward the goal of promoting greater accountability by the BFC, Facompre proposes appointing different people to the positions of district secretary and treasurer; Judy Peters currently holds both posts. The candidate also would implement changes that would make the district’s website, woodstockfiredept.org, more “user friendly,” such as posting department policies and audited vouchers on the site.
Facompre criticized Peters’s performance as district secretary, maintaining that she “makes critical mistakes” in recording the minutes of BFC meetings and has balked at his suggestions for the website, responding that she lacked a scanner that would facilitate the posting of additional material. [Note: Certain district policies and records, such as a procurement policy, a code of ethics, and audit reports, as well as the minutes of meetings, are currently posted on the website, although audited vouchers are not.]