Opinion 98 - 7


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

BOND AND NOTES -- Periods of Probable Usefulness (replacement of fire chiefs' cars); (acquisition of traffic signal control system)

FIRE DISTRICTS -- Apparatus and Equipment (capital reserve fund to replace chiefs' cars) -- Appropriations and Expenditures (replacement of chiefs' cars and acquisition of traffic signal control system) -- Powers and Duties (acquisition of chiefs' cars and traffic signal control system)

MUNICIPAL FUNDS -- Capital Reserve Fund (creation of by fire district to replace chiefs' cars); (creation of by fire district to acquire traffic signal control system); (acquisition of indefinite number of items of equipment)

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS -- Traffic Signals (acquisition of traffic signal control system by a fire district)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §6-g: A fire district may establish a capital reserve fund for the purpose of replacing chiefs' cars. It may also establish a capital reserve fund for the purpose of acquiring a traffic signal control system.

You ask whether a fire district may establish a capital reserve fund for the purpose of replacing three chiefs' cars. The fund would be used to replace one car every two years for an indefinite period of time. At the time of replacement, each car would have been in service for about six years. You also ask whether a fire district may establish a capital reserve fund to finance the purchase of a "traffic signal control system" to be installed at an intersection of a local road and a State highway located near the firehouse. The system would permit fire district personnel to control the traffic signal at the intersection in order to reduce the possibility of accidents involving district vehicles when responding to alarms.

Initially, we note that a reserve fund is a device which permits a local government to finance certain local government expenditures by accumulating moneys over a period of more than one fiscal year (see Opns St Comp No. 96-24, p 52; Opns St Comp No. 96-4, p 7; see also Korn v Gulotta, 72 NY2d 375, 534 NYS2d 108). Consequently, one condition precedent to the establishment of a reserve fund by a local government is that the local government have authority to expend money for the purpose for which the reserve fund is to be established.

Section 176(13) of the Town Law authorizes fire districts to purchase apparatus and equipment for the extinguishment and prevention of fires, and for emergency rescue and first aid
squads and fire police squads. We have previously concluded that such apparatus and equipment includes a chief's car (see 1980 Opns St Comp No. 80-299, unreported; see also 15 Opns St Comp 1959, p 275; 3 Opns St Comp 1948, p 349).

We are not aware of any express statutory authority for a fire district to expend money on a "traffic signal control system" such as the one at issue (compare General City Law, §20[32][d]; Town Law, §64[16]). It is apparent, however, that this type of "traffic signal control system" may help to facilitate safe and expeditious fire district responses to fire alarms and other emergencies. Thus, if such a system were utilized, the primary public benefit of the system would be to enable the district to efficiently perform the functions for which it was established (cf. Opn No. 92-41, supra). It is our view, therefore, that this type of "traffic signal control system" is equipment incidental to the functions of the fire district and that a fire district is authorized to expend money for the purchase of such a system(1).

As to whether a fire district may establish a capital reserve fund for these purposes,
section 6-g of the General Municipal Law authorizes the board of fire commissioners of a fire district to establish capital reserve funds to finance, among other things, the acquisition of a specific item or type of "equipment" (General Municipal Law, §6-g[2]). Insofar as here relevant, section 6-g defines the term "equipment" as "any equipment, machinery or apparatus for the acquisition of which a period of probable usefulness has been provided by law" (General Municipal Law, §6-g[1][b]).

The phrase "equipment, machinery and apparatus" includes "firefighting equipment and apparatus", such as a chief's car (see 1984 Opns St Comp No. 84-7, p 8; 1980 Opns St Comp No. 80-299, supra), and, in our view, is also broad enough to include the traffic signal control system in question. Further, section 11.00(a)(77) of the Local Finance Law establishes a period of probable usefulness for:

the purchase of a passenger vehicle, other than a school bus, having a seating capacity of less than ten persons, when purchased to replace a similar vehicle previously in service for three years or more, or in the case of a police or fire vehicle, in service for one year or more...

Section 11.00(a)(72) of the Local Finance Law establishes a period of probable usefulness for "traffic signal systems". Thus, it is our opinion that the term "equipment" as used in section 6-g
includes both a replacement for a chief's car which has been in service for at least one year and the proposed traffic signal control system.

We note that a resolution for the establishment of a capital reserve fund to finance the acquisition of a specific item of equipment must set forth the estimated cost thereof and is subject to permissive referendum requirements (General Municipal Law, §6-g[3]; see also Local Finance Law, §38.00[a]). Expenditures from such a fund would not be subject to referendum requirements (General Municipal Law, §6-g[7]). On the other hand, there are no referendum requirements for the establishment of a capital reserve fund for a "type" of equipment. Expenditures from such a fund, however, would be subject to permissive referendum requirements (id.; see also Opn No. 96-24, supra).

Based on the foregoing, it is our opinion that a fire district may establish a capital reserve fund to finance the replacement of chiefs' cars which have been in service for at least one year.
Since the fund would be established to finance the acquisition of an indefinite number of chiefs' cars, the fund would be established to finance the acquisition of a "type" of equipment (General Municipal Law, §6-g[2][b]; see also 1987 Opns St Comp No. 87-16, p 31). A resolution authorizing the establishment of the fund would not be subject to permissive referendum requirements. A resolution authorizing an expenditure from such a fund, however, would be subject to permissive referendum requirements (General Municipal Law, §6-g[7]; see also Local Finance Law, §38.00[a]).

It is also our opinion that a fire district may establish a capital reserve fund to finance the acquisition of a system which would permit fire district personnel to control a traffic signal at an intersection of a local road and State road located near the firehouse. Since the fund would be intended to finance the acquisition of a specific system for a particular intersection, the fund would be established to finance a "specific" item of equipment (General Municipal Law,
§6-g[2][a]). A resolution authorizing the establishment of the fund must set forth the estimated cost of the system and would be subject to permissive referendum requirements (General Municipal Law, §6-g[3]; see also Local Finance Law, §38.00[a]). A resolution authorizing an expenditure from such a fund, however, would not be subject to permissive referendum requirements (General Municipal Law, §6-g[7]).

April 29, 1998
Loring K. Manley, Chairman
Valley Cottage Fire District

1. We are informed that, consistent with this conclusion, the State Department of Transportation ("DOT") has a longstanding policy of issuing permits for the addition of emergency preemption features to State traffic control signals and requiring permittees, including fire districts, to provide the requisite equipment at their own expense (see New York State Department of Transportation, Directive on Traffic Control Program: Intersection Control --Signals [Code A09-255-3], August 14, 1981, p 3) . In addition, although not at issue here, we note that section 1681(c) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, as amended by chapter 689 of the Laws of 1985, generally requires DOT to install traffic control signals on State highways outside of firehouses (see Governor's Bill Jacket for L 1985, ch 689, letter from Senator Levy to Gerald Crotty dated July 17, 1985; Budget Report on Bills dated July 8, 1985).