Cumberland Fire District tax rate unchanged

Cumberland Fire District tax rate unchanged

Firefighters get 4 percent raise, but residential rate stays at $2.28

CUMBERLAND - The tax news is good for the Ashton-Berkeley area residents of the Cumberland Fire District.

For a third straight year, the rate - albeit the steepest in town - remains flat at $2.28 per thousand following the annual meeting on June 26.

But two years from now, the rate could drop as low as $1.83 per thousand dollar valuation, suggested district Commissioner Lou Mardo, who took exception to estimates by some that speculate a townwide consolidated rate as high as $2 in 2015.

He predicted the current $7.2 million currently combined budget for the four fire districts can be reduced through shared personnel and services to the $6.8 million range while keeping 13 firefighters in each station. With the lower cost will come the lower rate, he said.

For this district's taxpayers, the reduced rate would take $90 off the bill sent to the owner of a $200,000 house.

Better still would be the positive impact on commercial and industrial properties of this district, where the rates are unchanged this year at $3.58 and $5.43 respectively.

Tiered tax systems were proposed then removed from the bill creating the consolidated department that goes into action following the November 2014 election, now that the General Assembly finalized the bill this week. (See story on Page 1 and below.) A delay to next January was a possibility as the legislators wound down early this week.

The Cumberland Fire District, formed when the Ashton and Berkeley districts merged, is lending its name to the brand-new independent district.

Chairman Jim Leonard and Commissioner Dana Jones are the district's representatives on a board that's working out pre-merger details, such as contract, apparatus, insurance, and choosing leadership.

Last Wednesday's 90-degree day seemed to discourage attendance at a meeting that would have no increased financial impact on residents. It took 30 minutes to gather the 25 people needed for a quorum required by the district rules, and that included the elected board members, volunteers and part-time employees.

The $1.59 million spending package, up by just $1,578, was passed easily.

Commissioners announced a new, one-year contract with firefighters that even with 4 percent increases leaves them the lowest paid of the four districts, they said. A decrease in the pension payments and overtime costs, coupled with a higher collection rate, made the salary increase possible, commissioners said.

Chairman Jim Leonard said the contract was negotiated during "two or three meetings" with "very cooperative" firefighters.

He told The Breeze later the commissioners felt just the one-year contract would make it easier to later merge with the other three districts.

It was noted that although the town is served by four fire districts, the value of property in this district is just 16 percent of the town's total, not 25 percent, which accounts for it having the highest rate.

Acting Chief Michael Feather reported the district responded to 1,015 "reportable incidents" between July 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013. Of those, 37 percent were for outside of the department's own district.

Re-elected to the board were Erin McFarlane and Robin Marcotte. Lee Smith was elected moderator.