Regionalize Rather Than Consolidate EG Fire District
Consolidation may sound nice, but regionalizing is where the real savings could be achieved.
During the recent Town of East Greenwich elections, the idea of Consolidating the EG Fire District with other Town services was once again raised by two candidates for election to the Town Council. This has been followed by a variety of opinions on the subject expressed in the local press.
Consolidation is not a new idea and has been studied by the Fire District several times over the last 15-20 years. Each study has demonstrated that there would be few if any dollar savings to the tax payers.
At the same time, over the last four years, the Fire District's Board of Commissioners has worked quietly with the Town Council to combine several services with the Town where it made sense and there was no increase in cost to the taxpayers. These services include mailing the quarterly tax bills and collecting the tax funds for the Fire District, processing the FD payroll, processing accounts receivable and payables and providing other accounting functions. The Fire District participates in a health care buying consortium with the Town, uses some of the same communications and computer equipment and receives some professional IT services from the Town.
The Fire District approached the Town prior to the construction of the new Police Station to see if the Town could run a dispatch function for both the Town and Fire District but the Town determined there was not enough space in the newly designed station so the idea was not pursued. We are currently working to see if the Town can provide maintenance and repair services for some fire apparatus. During the two years of negotiations with New England Tech, we collaborated with the Town so there was only one negotiation.
The Fire District has been working for a couple of years to have the City of Warwick provide dispatching services for East Greenwich. When that occurs, there will be benefits for residents of both communities. We have entered a buying collaborative with other Fire Departments and saved significant tax dollars by purchasing similar types of equipment from single source vendors. If there are other ideas for savings to Town residents through integration or collaboration, the Fire Commissioners will vigorously pursue them with the appropriate officials.
One of the reasons we have such a well managed Fire District in East Greenwich and why we have been able to hold the line on tax increases is because of the rigorous oversight by the five Fire Commissioners. This goes far beyond one three hour meeting each month. For example, along with two other Commissioners and our attorney, I spent several weeks of meetings negotiating a contract that was fair to the fire fighters, recognizes the changing economy we live in and benefited the taxpayers. We have a professional staff in the Fire District including a treasurer and attorney who are actively involved with the Commissioners in managing the Fire District. We have a Planning Board made up of interested residents who work on several issues on behalf of the Fire District. This past year they have made significant recommendations for energy savings at Station 2.
In the 4 ½ years of serving residents of East Greenwich, I have been outspoken in expressing my opinion that the EG Fire District should be a leader in organizing a regional fire service. Though there are many hurdles to overcome, in a city-state the size of R.I., we should be putting like services together to concentrate the effectiveness of the service offered to all citizens. This will lower the tax bill for all citizens in the towns that join together. We must continue to be leaders in pursuing this approach.
Rather than spend time trying to consolidate a very effective and well-run fire district like the EGFD into the town services where there would be few if any dollar savings, I urge the Town Council representatives to seek opportunities with other communities to regionalize police, highway, recreation and other services. In a community such as East Greenwich, we shouldn't try to establish a small political fiefdom; we should be bold in our thinking and seek ways to save significant tax dollars by combining like services with other towns around us.
East Greenwich Fire District