What Next For Fire District In Wake Of Election?
Voters approved the nonbinding ballot referendum asking if the Town and the Fire District should merge by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday – 4,425 to 2,239.
Officials are pondering how to move forward after voters Tuesday approved the idea of merging the EG Fire District with the Town. The ballot question was not binding, since by state law any such change needs to be made by the General Assembly.
Three of the five Fire Commissioners came out against merging the District with the Town, including board Chairman Bill Daly.
“We didn’t really get the chance to get the word out,” he said. Still, said Daly, “we’re going to cooperate. I think we’ll present our point of view.”
Town Manager Bill Sequino said the referendum passed “more overwhelming” than he he thought it would. As for what to do now, Sequino said, “I think the Council and the Fire District should get together.”
Sequino said many residents didn’t realize the Fire District was separate from the town. “We get calls all the time – ‘What’s the phone number for the Fire Department?’ and so on. And that line has gotten blurred a little bit because there is only one tax bill now,” he said.
“Essentially, the ball’s in their court,” said Council President Michael Isaacs, referring to the Fire District. “It’s up to them how they are going to work with us.”
Four of the five Town Councilors – including Isaacs – favored merging.
Isaacs did bring up the fact that the referendum only asked if voters thought merging was a good idea. It did not tackle the more practical concerns of how exactly a merger would take place.
“We have to look at the laws, we have to look at their charter,” he said. “And we have to look at procedures.”
Regardless of what happens on the local level, town officials will need the help of state legislators. Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35), who was re-elected on Tuesday, said he would be happy to put in legislation from the town but he’s looking to local officials to work out details.
“I’m going to be waiting for a resolution from the town,” he said. “The last thing that this process needs is a legislator interjecting himself.
He continued, “Knowing the leadership style on both sides, they are going to negotiate in good faith,” Hodgson said. He noted he is on good terms with both Fire Chief Peter Henrikson and Fire Commissioner Mark Schwager, as well as with members of the Town Council.
“They’re all professional. I would expect the Fire District’s going to respect the public’s wishes as well,” Hodgson said. He pointed to the “2-1 mandate from the citizens” as well as re-election of all five members of the Town Council.