Residents of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District voted Wednesday night to expand the board of directors from five members to nine and to elect four new members, a move that could change taxes in the future and the district itself.
Members voted 112 to 55 to expand the board of directors.
“The mill rate here is the highest in the town," said Board Member Nancy Beckwith of what was driving the vote. "It’s becoming very difficult to control because of the salaries.”
Groton that provide fire protection and emergency services to the residents of the districts they cover. Poquonnock Bridge is the largest of the nine, and is a career fire department, so it has paid staff rather than volunteers.
It charges a tax rate of 5.9 mills to residents, the highest tax rate of the nine districts. The current operating budget is just over $4.6 million.
The district elected these four members to serve a term beginning Aug. 1 and ending June 30, 2013: Randy Ackley, Peter Legnos, Ron Yuhas and Alan Ackley.
“We’ve always felt that greater taxpayer oversight is certainly better than less,” said Alan Ackley, a former board director who was re-elected Wednesday. “There’s no reason why our tax rates have to be so out of line compared to the people who live in other districts.” He said the discrepancy must be corrected.
“That’s what we’re looking to achieve, and we will achieve it,” he said.
Ackley said the district recently signed a contract with firefighters' union that would have a substantial impact on district costs. The terms of that agreement were not available Wednesday night.
Members have also discussed asking the town to take over the fire district and make it a town department.
Chris Clark, president of the board for the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District, said he spoke to the town manger recently and believes turning the district over to the town would increase costs, not reduce them.
Clark said Poquonnock Bridge would have to pay additional human resources and insurance costs, yet would still have to maintain its staff.
“The payroll will still be the same, we’re still going to need fuel… I don’t know where this cost savings is going to be generated,” he said.
Poquonnock Bridge has a minimum staff of five firefighters at any given time, which is not enough to handle a fire without mutual aid, Clark said. Under rules of the Occupational Health And Safety Administration, firefighters must enter a burning building two at a time, with two remaining outside, Clark said.
That’s not enough to do everything that needs to be done, he added. “You don’t have enough firefighters to search for victims, fight the fire, ventilate the building,” he said. “You need backup.”
In addition, he said Poqunnock Bridge’s ladder truck has been out of service for nine months, so if it needs this equipment, it must call Groton City.
Clark said despite the argument that Poquonnock Bridge taxpayers support other volunteer districts with career firefighters at greater cost, the reality is that mutual aid calls are 2-1 in the other direction, he said.
The Town Council’s public safety committee recently said it would not consider consolidating the fire district into a town departments without a request from the fire district itself.