A heated debate in Depew over spending nearly $1 million for two new fire trucks has escalated into a police investigation.
Depew police are looking into alleged threats made recently on Facebook against Depew Mayor Steven P. Hoffman and the Village Board, including one comment that suggested lighting the mayor’s house on fire.
“We’re taking it seriously,” Hoffman told The Buffalo News on Wednesday. “It’s been turned over to the Depew Police Department, and it’s now an active police investigation.”
The controversy stems from an ongoing disagreement between Hoffman and the Depew Fire Department. The Fire Department is pushing hard for two new pumper trucks at a cost of more than $900,000, while the village is worried about the impact that would have on tax bills.
Then, about a week ago, a resident informed the mayor of a Facebook thread addressing the issue of the new fire trucks. One comment, Hoffman said, suggested the firefighters stage a walkout. Another, he said, made a physical threat against the Village Board.
Yet another was aimed directly at Hoffman. “Maybe it’s time to light up the mayor’s house,” the comment read, according to Hoffman.
The thread apparently was taken down, but the person who told Hoffman about what was said also snapped a photo of the comments. That was turned over to police. Those involved in the Facebook exchange included at least eight members of the Depew Fire Department, Hoffman said.
“I don’t think this is a reflection of the entire Fire Department,” he said.
Hoffman spoke publicly about the alleged threats at the Village Board meeting this week, although he referred further questions to Police Chief Stan Carwile.
Carwile did not return calls from The News on Wednesday seeking comment.
Hoffman and fire officials had a heated back-and-forth exchange over the purchase of two new pumpers at a work session of the Village Board last month.
The Depew Fire Department has six companies with seven trucks operating out of three fire stations. The current pumper trucks, fire officials explained, are both 30 years old and no longer meet fire-safety standards.
The department has been pressing to replace the pumpers for nearly a decade, while over the last two years more than $25,000 has been spent on repairs of the trucks.
Hoffman, meanwhile, said he has been waiting for the Fire Department to submit a comprehensive strategic plan to cut costs and consolidate operations.
“It’s up to the board to govern,” Hoffman said, “Ultimately, we need to look out for the taxpayer.”