Bethlehem Fire Department Issue Heats Up

BETHLEHEM — In a roll call 5 to 4 vote Monday evening, Bethlehem Council members passed a motion at the conclusion of their meeting to fund the village fire department at a rate of $30,000 annually, nearly $20,000 less than previous years’ funding.

The money will be paid quarterly from the village’s annual utility tax beginning next year.

After the motion by 3rd Ward Councilman Charles Griffin that the fire department receive a straight $30,000 annually, Village Recorder Steve Gulajski requested a roll call vote within a standing-room-only meeting, with many fire department officials in attendance. The motion also requires the fire department to submit a line item budget.

Voting in favor of the motion were Mayor Tim Bishop, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Judi Kirker, 3rd Ward Councilman Charles “Chuck” Griffin, 7th Ward Councilman Stanley Wojcik, and Gulajski. Voting against the motion were 1st Ward Councilman Robert Henry Jr., 4th Ward Councilman Stephen Harasuik, 5th Ward Councilman Mark Saseen and 6th Ward Councilman Thomas Auten Jr.

It was revealed at previous council meetings that the village has provided 2 percent of the community’s annual utility tax — which is approximately $50,000 annually — to the fire department each year over the past few decades, with that amount fluctuating slightly from year to year.

Bishop, along with several council members, has discussed whether that figure should be adjusted to a lower amount, so the remainder can be applied to other vital village projects. It also was revealed at an August council meeting that the fire department had more than $800,000 in several bank accounts at that time.

After Monday’s meeting, when asked about the motion being passed, Bethlehem Fire Department President George Saseen said he was extremely disappointed with council’s decision.

Saseen said it is disconcerting, “that at this time, when we are trying to do the best for the village, they are taking funds away.”

Several times during the meeting, Saseen disagreed with Bishop’s assessment on several proposals provided to the fire department by the village.

“This was all pre-planned. I believe they all pre-planned coming in here to vote to take the money away from us,” he added.

Saseen said this “can destabilize the fire department,” with future funding coming up shorter than in previous years from the village. “This has obviously fallen on deaf ears and we will now take the issue to the village residents,” he added. He said he wants the residents to know who voted in favor of the funding change.