Oct. 02--MYSTIC -- A group of Quiambaug Fire District residents have petitioned district officials to hold a special meeting because they say their questions about the proposed hiring of the district's first paid firefighter have been ignored.
Since August, Greg Teifert said his group has asked both verbally and in writing for information such as the job description of the firefighter, the salary and benefits, the district's annual budget and bylaws and the name of board members. But so far, they have not received any answers, he said. All the information is considered public under state freedom of information law.
In addition, the residents want the small district to begin discussions with the town's other five fire departments about the possibility of consolidation. They want the district to hold off on hiring the firefighter until these items are addressed.
"If we have to hire a firefighter, fine, but we should be looking at other alternatives," said resident John Cory. "Consolidation of departments is happening all over the state."
At a gathering of the residents Tuesday morning, resident Michael Wall stressed the group did not mean to show any disrespect toward the department's current volunteer firefighters.
"But it's the way (the fire officials) have gone about this, with a lack of transparency and the overstimulation of the tax rate. We're just looking for some answers and accountability," he said.
While it has been estimated by the fire district that the new firefighter/EMT, who would also process a growing amount of required district paperwork, would cost about $100,000 in salary and benefits, the residents said the revenue raised from the tripling of the tax rate has resulted in an additional $292,340 in revenue for the fire district this fiscal year. They questioned what the extra money is being used for.
Resident Bob O'Shaugh nessey called for an independent study of the fire services in town, adding that one department with a few substations could adequately serve the town, which currently has six fire departments.
Fire District President Seth Wakemen said Tuesday that the firefighter has not yet been hired and that the group will be given all the information it requested before the special meeting. He said the board will set the date of the special meeting when it meets on Monday.
He said that over the past two years, fire district officials have held several public meetings to discuss the need for the firefighter and that the current budget, which includes the paid firefighter, was unanimously approved at the annual meeting in April.
He said the fire district heard no complaints until July when tax bills, which increased the tax rate from 0.65 mills to 1.8 mills, were sent out to property owners.
Wakeman said the rate is still less than or equal to those in other area districts.
Wakeman said he could not immediately say how much additional revenue has been raised in the budget.
"We understand their criticism. My tax rate went up. The tax rate for the board members went up. We don't like it," he said. "We've tried for many years to pinch pennies as much as we can. We don't have a fancy brick firehouse like other departments do."
The paid firefighter would work weekdays when many of the volunteers are at work and unable to respond to calls. Wakeman said the lack of a fully manned fire station can mean increased insurance rates for property owners.
The Quiambaug Fire District serves 898 properties and stretches along Route 1 from Collins Road to Hewitt Road, north to Pequotsepos Road Extension and south to the northern section of Masons Island. It also encompasses Latimer Point.
Wakeman said he is not opposed to discussing consolidation with other departments if it makes financial sense and continues to provide the needed fire and medical response.
Copyright 2013 - The Day, New London, Conn.