Fire District Agrees To Review Draft Merger Legislation

Town Council members suggest some sort of advisory fire commission could continue at least in the short term.

EG Fire Commission President Bill Daly came out strongly against merging with the town during a joint Town Council-East Greenwich Fire Commission meeting Monday to discuss the matter. But by meeting's end (a mere 75 minutes later), Daly and the other Fire Commissioners agreed to review draft merger legislation with an eye toward resuming discussions with the Town Council by the end of the month.

At the beginning of the meeting, Daly read a statement he'd written that questioned the real benefits of merging with the town and instead he proposed forming a task force to evaluate merging. 

"We know that prior to voting on the referendum the voters were not provided any data or information which would demonstrate that the merger would: save money, lower taxes, increase efficiencies, improve managerial and financial oversight or improve the delivery of fire and rescue services," read a segment of his statement.

That prompted strong pushback from Council members, who kept returning to the fact that the nonbinding referendum in November won by a 2-to-1 margin.

"You're approaching this as if there's been no voter input," said Town Council President Michael Isaacs. The referendum was only nonbinding in the sense that any action needed to be determined by the General Assembly by state law, he said.

After 30 minutes of tense back and forth, the air went out of the Fire Commissioners' balloon and they began evaluating the draft legislation in front of them.

And there are significant hurdles to overcome, including timing, since this is a contract negotiation year and both the contract and the General Assembly "expire" at about the same time, June 30. Bill Perry, president of the fire fighters union, said after the meeting one solution could be a one-year extension of the contract. 

Another issue is whether or not the legislation would even be voted on this year by the General Assembly. Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-Dist. 30) and Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35) attended the meeting. Both have said they would be willing to introduce legislation on behalf of the town.

The Fire Commissioners will meet in a special session on Thursday to discuss the proposed merger legislation. The Town Council said they would like to be able to vote on the legislation at their meeting Feb. 25.

Video from the meeting will be posted later today.

Jerry Hoff February 05, 2013 at 01:15 PM
I attended this meeting last evening to show support for this merger. It is an important topic for the town. In essence we have a separate governing system for our fire protection that's run by 5 people chosen from only 30 residents, and who call the shots on almost 25% of the municipal budget, or $5.5 million of our tax dollars. In a vote last fall, we basically gave the TC a mandate to do away with this system as 2/3rds of us agreed with the proposal. There are multiple reasons to question the viability of the current way the our fire department works (see Chuck Newton's blog "Looking For a Few Good Answers" in this edition), but with the current economy in this state, finding ways to better monitor the use of every single one of our tax dollars is imperative. Afterall, do any of you really think we'll be taxed less in the coming years? I came away with two thoughts after this meeting; we need more resident participation at Town Council meetings, and Michael Isaacs, the President of the Town Council, is impressive at what he does. It was always my belief as it may be for many of you, that with the quality of our elected members of the Town Council we could simply leave the work to them, but the importance of participation, supporting those proposals you agree with, questioning the ones you don't, is and should always be looked at as a duty. I hope to see more of you at upcoming meetings. It's important and it's time to get more involved.
Elizabeth McNamara February 05, 2013 at 02:51 PM
The fire tax would be incorporated into the town tax for one bill. Council Pres. Isaacs said last night there could be an arrangement made to secure the vehicle replacement fund written into the legislation. As for additional pros and cons, here are some links to previous articles on the topic: http://eastgreenwich.patch.com/articles/2-visions-of-fire-district-at-forum-if-it-works-don-t-fix-it-archaic-and-closed http://eastgreenwich.patch.com/articles/should-town-fire-district-remain-separate http://eastgreenwich.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-vote-no-on-merger-ballot-question
kathi February 05, 2013 at 03:08 PM
When is the Town Council going to show us where the savings will be
Chuck Newton February 05, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Where was everyone when this issue was being debated before being decided in the November elections? The world belongs to those who show up...
PT Mom February 06, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Frankly, coming from the perspective of someone who is not a native Rhode Islander and has lived in several cities larger than the entire state, every single one of us would benefit from a whole bunch of mergers! Schools, police, fire-just to name a few. I have lived here long enough to know the politics of the state will probably never allow that to happen.


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