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.