East Greenwich residents have the opportunity to hear from East Greenwich Fire Commissioners and the Town Council on the non-binding referendum question that goes before voters on Nov. 6 which asks if the fire service should be merged with the town.
The public forum takes place Monday at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center. Residents are encouraged to come.
The East Greenwich Fire District has always been a completely separate from the town. It is ruled by a five-member Fire Commission with independent taxing authority.
Town Councilman Jeff Cianciolo raised the issue of placing a nonbinding referendum question before voters during a Council meeting in July.
Cianciolo said he wanted to hear what citizens thought about having two systems. “Should we have two separate municipal governments?” he said.
This is not the first time talk of consolidating services has arisen. The Fire District has undertaken two studies in recent years on the issue, most recently in 2011. According to the latest study, there would not be significant taxpayer savings if the two entities are merged.
That’s partly because the town already takes care of parts of the Fire District’s operation. In particular, the town handles payroll and accounts payable, collects taxes, allows EGFD vehicles to gas up at town pumps (which they pay for), plows station driveways and assists in tech services. The town and fire district also share a phone service, which they pay for jointly.
But combined services is only part of the larger issue for Cianciolo.
“One of the things that I found troublesome is that access to electing your representatives in the Fire District is slim,” Cianciolo said, referring to the fire commissioners’ election process. “If you’re not available on one particular day in June … you don’t have any say.”
At a subsequent Council meeting, two Fire Commissioners questioned the need for the referendum, stating the idea had been studied more than once, with few, if any, economic benefits seen.
Fire District Commissioners are elected at the District’s annual meeting, typically in mid June. At their last annual meeting three commissioners were elected. Before the annual meeting, a nominating committee vets interested candidates and ranks who they think should get the job. But nominations are also allowed from the floor at the annual meeting, making it possible for someone relatively unknown to be elected.
The public forum on the non-binding referendum question about merging fire services with the town takes place Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center. All are welcome.