Rep. Ackerman wants committee to consider all sides of fire merger bill

Rep. Ackerman wants committee to consider all sides of fire merger bill

Text of Sen. Pearson's bill posted here

PROVIDENCE – State Rep. Mia Ackerman told The Breeze Thursday she isn't giving up yet on the fire district consolidation bill submitted by Sen. Ryan Pearson. But she does have reservations that she will address during committee hearings.

While the Pawtucket Times is reporting her opposition for fear of rising taxes for some constituents in northern fire districts, Ackerman told The Breeze she wants to see the bill in committee "and let's talk about it."

She noted, "We need to hear the testimony of everybody. If it's not a good bill now we need to make it a good bill."

On Wednesday, she told The Pawtucket Times she favors putting it off to seek out agreement from all sides. She told the newspaper that she's concerned the bill doesn't guarantee a tax savings for constituents.

The bill comes from Sen. Ryan Pearson (see the full text below) who has been arguing that it's unclear what the savings will be until a consolidated district has time to operate for a year.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Karen MacBeth has been opposed to the plan since its outset, is predicting "double-digit" tax increases for residents of the North Cumberland and Cumberland Hill fire districts.

MacBeth is suggesting that the Town Council take a second look at the resolution urging the consolidation that members adopted in a 5-2 vote on May 1, just five days after it was e-mailed around to the council members.

But suggested Ackerman, "There are too many moving parts right now. Let's let the democratic process start rolling and let it go and we'll see what happens."

- Marcia Green

Here's the bill

2013 -- S 0958
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LC02310
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S T A T E O F R H O D E I S L A N D
IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
JANUARY SESSION, A.D. 2013
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A N A C T
RELATING TO THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE CUMBERLAND, NORTH
CUMBERLAND, CUMBERLAND HILL, AND VALLEY FALLS FIRE DISTRICTS INTO
THE CUMBERLAND FIRE DISTRICT

Introduced By: Senators Pearson, and Picard
Date Introduced: May 22, 2013
Referred To: Senate Finance
(by request)

It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:

SECTION 1. The Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, 1 and Valley Falls Fire Districts are hereby merged and consolidated into the Cumberland Fire District in the manner and form as follows:

Section 1. Name And Jurisdiction

This newly consolidated fire district shall be known as the Cumberland Fire District and shall have jurisdiction over the entire town of Cumberland. The Cumberland Fire District shall acquire the property, assets and personnel of the Cumberland, North Cumberland, CumberlandHill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts. The action of consolidating the existing districts in to oneindependent district is done so in accordance with a referendum approved by the qualified voters of the Town of Cumberland by a vote of 10,033 in favor and 2,544 opposed which took place on November 2, 2010 and by a resolution adopted by the Cumberland Town Council on May 1, 2013.

Section 2. Electors

All of the taxable inhabitants or qualified electors of the town of Cumberland, eighteen (18) years of age or older shall be members of the distinct and independent entity known as the "Cumberland Fire District."

Section 3. Governing Body

The initial governing body of the consolidated Cumberland Fire District shall be a Fire Committee. Beginning no later than September of 2013, with a special election, 1 seven (7) members of the Cumberland Fire Committee (hereinafter the "Committee") shall be elected. Each of the five (5) council districts shall elect one member, with two (2) members being elected from the town at large. It shall be a non-partisan election for a fourteen (14) month term, or until such time as their successors are sworn in. The winning candidates shall be sworn in immediately after the election results are certified.

Beginning no later than November of 2014, with the regularly scheduled general election, seven (7) members of the Cumberland Fire Committee shall be elected. Each of the five (5) council districts shall elect one member, with two (2) members being elected from the town at large. It shall be a non-partisan election for a two (2) year term. The winning candidates shall be sworn in immediately after the election results are certified. Any vacancy in the membership of the Committee shall be filled by written ballot of a majority of all the members of the Town Council for the remainder of the term of office, provided that the person selected to fill said vacancy shall be a qualified elector from that district. A vacancy in said membership of the Committee shall occur if a member dies, resigns from office, ceases to be a resident and/or elector of the district in which elected, or shall be absent for four (4) consecutive regular meetings or six (6) regular meetings within a twelve (12) month period unless said absence(s) are excused by a majority vote of the whole Committee. Any and all elections, provided for under this act, shall be administered by the state board of elections and the town of Cumberland board of canvassers.

Section 4. Bylaws

The Committee may adopt bylaws they deem necessary and expedient for carrying out the provisions of this act, provided that they are not in violation of or repugnant to the laws of this state. The Committee may change any provision of the bylaws at any regular or special meeting, provided the proposed change has been noticed on the agenda of the meeting.

Section 5. Authorization To Borrow Funds

The Cumberland Fire District is hereby authorized and empowered to borrow from time to time such sums of money as may be necessary, not however, to exceed the sum of one-half 1/2) of the annual operating budget for the purpose of procuring real and personal estate, the construction and maintenance of buildings, the procuring of fire and water apparatus, for the payment of any legal indebtedness of said district, or for the purpose of purchasing or procuring any other property, real or personal, that may be legally acquired and held by said district and for the purpose of carrying into effect the objects for which said district is incorporated.

Section 6. Preservation Of Rights Under Existing Labor Contracts

In accordance with the provisions of Section 19.1 of Chapter 7, Title 28 of the Rhode Island General Laws, this act of consolidation shall not impair the provisions of any existing labor contracts for persons employed by any of the individual fire districts. Notwithstanding this consolidation, the labor contracts shall continue in full force and effect until their termination dates or until otherwise agreed by the parties or their legal successors. All employees of the Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, North Cumberland and Valley Falls Fire Districts who are so employed by said districts as of the date of the enactment of this Act, shall become employees of the Cumberland Fire District, and shall retain all accumulated rank, benefits and other rights of employment as existed with the several districts without any action by the Committee of the Cumberland Fire District. Nothing contained herein shall prevent the Committee from reducing or eliminating non-contractual positions.

The Collective Bargaining Agreements and all other binding commitments and agreements entered into between the Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, North Cumberland and Valley Falls Fire Districts and the Cumberland (IAFF Local 4114), Cumberland Hill (IAFF Local 2762), North Cumberland (IAFF Local 2722) and Valley Falls (IAFF Local 2729) Fire Fighters Associations, and any retired members, in effect on the date of enactment of this Act, shall remain in full force and effect and shall be treated from that point forward as entered into between the Cumberland Fire District and the Cumberland (IAFF Local 4114), Cumberland Hill (IAFF Local 2762), North Cumberland (IAFF Local 2722) and Valley Falls (IAFF Local 2729) Fire Fighters Associations.

Section 7. Taxes And Tax Collector

The Committee shall have power to impose taxes, including multi-tier tax rates, and provide for assessing and collecting the same, on the taxable inhabitants or property in said district, as they shall deem necessary for purchasing and procuring real estate, and buildings, implements, apparatus and other equipment, and for the payment of the current expenses of said district, the payment of such fire force as they may deem necessary for the protection of the inhabitants of said district from fires and for the preservation of the public peace therein and also for the payment of any indebtedness that has been or may be incurred by said district.

The Committee and the District shall be subject to, and bound by, Section 44-5-2 ("maximum levy") of the general laws as if they were a city or town. Such taxes so ordered shall be assessed by the assessors of said district on the taxable inhabitants or property therein according to the last valuation made by the assessor of the town next previous to said assessment, adding, however, any taxable property which may have been omitted by said town assessors or which may have been since acquired. In the assessing and collecting of said taxes such proceedings shall be had by the officers of said district as near as may be, as are required to be had by the corresponding officers of towns in this state in assessing and collecting town taxes.

The collector of taxes for the town may provide assistance in the collection of the taxes for said district, including, but not limited to arranging for the fire tax bill to appear on the same bill as the town tax bill. Any and all funds collected by the Town on behalf of the District shall be separately held and accounted for and be held for the exclusive use of the fire district. The collector of taxes for said district shall for the purpose of collecting taxes assessed for said district have the same powers and authorities as are now by law conferred upon collectors of taxes for the towns in this state. Said district may provide for such deduction from the tax assessed against any person if paid by an appointed time or for such penalty by way of percentage on the tax if not paid at an appointed time, as they shal deem necessary to insure punctual payments.

Section 8. Corporate Status

This newly consolidated Cumberland Fire District shall have the right to enter into contracts, to sue and to be sued, and to perform all the functions of a corporation and shall have all general corporate powers permitted by law in accordance with section 7-1.1-4, as amended. The Cumberland Fire District shall possess all the rights, privileges, immunities, and franchises, as well of a public or of a private nature, of the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts; and all property, real, personal and mixed, and all debts due on whatever account, including outstanding taxes, and all other causes in action, and all and and Valley Falls Fire Districts (herein consolidated), shall be taken and deemed to be transferred to and vested in the Cumberland Fire Districts without further act or deed; and the title to any real estate, or any interest therein, vested in the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts shall not revert or be in any way impaired by reason of this consolidation.

Section 9. Management

The management of the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts shall be assumed by the Cumberland Fire Committee. The Committee shall assume and have all the powers and duties of the Board of Fire Commissioners for each of the four (4) existing fire districts and to the extent that this contravenes the existing public laws relating to each of the four (4) existing fire districts, this act shall control and supersede said prior acts.

During the first year, following the election of the Committee, in September, 2013, the Committee shall manage and oversee the four (4) existing budgets of each of the consolidated fire districts, provided, however, that during the budget cycle for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2014, the Committee shall adopt one budget and tax rate for the 1 unified district. In all subsequent fiscal years the Committee shall have the power to adopt an annual operating budget. The Committee shall make provision for no less than two (2) public hearings thereon, to be held on separate days, and to be concluded no later than the first Monday in June.

Notice of said hearings shall be advertised on at least three (3) separate days in a newspaper or newspapers of general circulation in the Town, the final such advertisement to appear no less than five (5) days prior to the first hearing date. In adopting the final budget, the Committee shall take two (2) separate votes thereon, the second of which shall be taken no less than forty-eight (48) hours following the first. The Committee shall have completed action on the final budget no later than the second Monday in June. Any amendment proposed to the annual budget following its adoption shall specify the source of any funds sought to be appropriated over and above the total in the budget as originally adopted, and shall be considered by the Committee under the following procedure:

A budget amendment showing the proposed changes in the affected line items shall be presented to the Committee and shall be referred to a subsequent regular or special meeting for action on its adoption. The Committee shall make provision for two (2) public hearings thereon, to be held on separate days. The second such hearing may be on the date the Committee shall consider adoption of the budget amendment. Notice of the said hearings shall be advertised on at least three (3) separate days in a newspaper or newspapers of general circulation in the Town, the final such advertisement to appear no less than ten (10) days prior to the first hearing date.

The Committee shall also cause to be published in a newspaper or newspapers of general circulation in the Town a summary of major expenditure and revenue categories appearing in the budget amendment, compared to current authorized expenditures and revenues, said publication is to appear no less than ten (10) days prior to the first public hearing.

Any item or items in the District budget as finally adopted are subject to referendum of the electors of the District in the following manner:

(a) Any elector of the District may circulate a petition for the holding of a referendum on such item or items of authorized expenditure provided for in the budget as shall be specifically identified in said petition together with the proposed amount of increase or decrease thereof. Such petition may call for the elimination of an item of expenditure in its entirety, or the insertion of a new item. Any such petition must be filed with the Town Clerk no later than fourteen (14) calendar days following the final adoption of the budget.

(b) The Town Clerk shall transmit any such petition received by him or her to the Canvassing Authority which shall verify the signatures thereon forthwith. If the petition shall be certified by the Canvassers to contain the valid signatures of at least four percent (4%) of the electors than registered in the Town, it shall be returned to 1 the Town Clerk.

(c) Upon receipt of such certification from the Canvassing Authority, the Town Clerk shall set a date for the holding of a referendum by the electors of the Town on the items specified in the petition, such referendum to take place no later than the third Tuesday following receipt of such certification.

(d) Upon the certification of any such petition for a referendum by the Canvassing Authority pursuant to subparagraph (b) of this Section, if such petition calls for the reduction or elimination of an item or items in the budget as approved, no expenditures shall be made from said item or items, nor shall any of the funds therefrom be obligated, until the referendum thereon has been held and the issue resolved, provided, however, that the Committee may continue to spend and/or obligate funds until the referendum is held and the issue resolved, so long as the rate of expenditure and/or obligation does not exceed that of the previous year during the same period of time.

Any and all funds acquired by the Cumberland Fire District hereunder which at the time of the passage of this Act are held by the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts in accounts restricted by prior voter approval, testamentary bequest or state law (including, but not limited to, the Rhode Island Development Impact Fee Act, R.I.G.L. §45-22.4-1 et seq.) shall be held, used or applied, spent, expended and administered by the Cumberland Fire District in accordance with the restrictions imposed thereon until the funds have been exhausted.

Section 10. Existing Boards Of Commissioners

The existing boards of commissioners for the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts as created by the General Assembly shall be dissolved, upon the swearing in of the Cumberland Fire Committee, and all of their powers and duties shall pass to the Cumberland Fire Committee not inconsistent with this act.

SECTION 2. The Cumberland Town Council shall have the authority, in accordance with the vote of the electors at the general election of November 2, 2010, to implement this consolidation plan through arranging for the special election and appropriating such municipal funds and resources necessary to carry out the implementation of this act.

SECTION 3. Sections 2, 3 and 10 of Section 1 and Sections 2 and 3 of this act shall take effect upon passage. The remaining sections of this act shall take effect upon the election of the Cumberland Fire Committee. Should any part of this act contravene or be inconsistent with any terms or provisions of the Public Laws which created and/or amended the charters of the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls Fire Districts, the provisions of this 1 act shall control.
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LC02310
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