Approved fire district bill had flaws

Approved fire district bill had flaws

This is in response to Mayor McKee's letter last week regarding the "success" of the fire consolidation. In his letter he states that Rep. Karen MacBeth's approach was a "kick the can down the road plan." Nothing could be further from the truth and is yet another example of McKee making statements not supported by facts. It was an issue of what contents were missing from "the can" in the bad legislation he supported.

I will not bore you with the history of the fire merger process, but rather will focus on the flaws in the bill that Mayor McKee supported; flaws that would have been addressed by the amendments offered on the House floor by Rep. MacBeth.

The flaws in the bill that Mayor McKee supported and rammed through the House/Senate include:

* Subjects the Fire District to the state's tax cap. An amendment would have helped further protect the current four districts from potential double-digit percentage increases as we moved to a unified tax rate. This amendment would have also given the transitional board a foundation for which to plan the merger.

* Does not provide the necessary protection to taxpayers with respect to liens that may be filed by the tax district against property owners. An amendment would have placed the fire district second behind the town as a lienholder, and before the big banks. The bill as written puts the interest of the big banks ahead of the taxpayers. Could this be because Sen. Pearson is employed by a big bank (Citizens Bank)? Rep. MacBeth's amendment put the town fire district before the big banks.

* Only gives the power to establish a transitional committee leading up to the Nov. 2014 election. An amendment would have defined the dynamics and authority of the members of the transitional committee. As it is written into law now Mayor McKee can exert his political leverage and simply have himself appointed as the transitional committee or have the Town Council appointed.

* Allows the new board to adopt bylaws but does not mandate it. An amendment would have mandated it. Why would you create a board and not mandate that they document as to how they are going to operate?

* Allows the Town Council to make appointments to fill any vacancies on the new board. This is supposed to be an "independent" body and not a "municipal" body. The new board should be allowed to fill their own vacancies just as the Town Charter allows the Town Council to fill their own vacancies.

* Is silent on the requirement that any interest earned on fire district funds held by the town be turned over to the fire district. An amendment would have mandated this. I know firsthand as a former Finance Chair for the School Committee that the town kept the interest for their own use and not to the benefit of the children. Interest earned on fire tax proceeds should be strictly for the benefit of the fire district and could amount to $50-60,000 per year; funds that could be better used providing fire protection services to the entire town.

So mayor, it is not about "kicking a can down the road," it's about making sure that the contents of that "can" best meet the needs of the town's taxpayers that will consume it. Sometimes it is better to not ram a bad bill through in the final days of the House/Senate sessions. It can do more harm than good and I fear that this is what we will see in this situation.

If Mayor McKee wants to focus on "kicking a can down the road" he should focus on his inability/refusal to settle a new contract with our police officers and allocating more money, to the tune of $250,000, in the current budget to pay a lawyer to negotiate. Mayor McKee should also focus on how many times he "kicked the can down the road" by not fully funding the town required contributions to the police pension fund. These "cans" along with support for legislation that did not include the above amendments will hurt our Town of Cumberland.

Brian Kelly