Manville, Quinnville absent from 'all or nothing' fire consolidation discussions

Manville, Quinnville absent from 'all or nothing' fire consolidation discussions

LINCOLN - In attending a Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday night, four of Lincoln's six fire districts expressed interest in at least working with town officials as they attempt to consolidate services, while representatives from Manville and Quinnville remain absent.

Commissioners from Albion, Lime Rock and Saylesville, as well as Lonsdale Chief Timothy Griffin on behalf of Lonsdale's commissioner, participated in civil discussions with Town Councilors Kenneth Pichette, Arthur Russo, John Flynn and Keith Macksoud.

Ideas were shared and "I disagree" was usually preceded by "respectfully." There were even a few laughs.

Lincoln is essentially already operating a consolidated service, said Saylesville Commissioner Ernest Lacombe, as all districts respond to major incidents, but there are still six different tax rates and entities.

"Six different districts, six different kingdoms, six different kings, six different tax rates," said Mike Allen, chairman of the Albion Board of Commissioners.

Griffin agreed.

"There are six different rates for the same service," he said.

Allen said while Albion is on board with discussions, "others need to step up to the plate."

Macksoud said the consolidation would be "all or nothing."

The six districts plus town rescue cost a reported total of $6.8 million.

"We are one townwide department, operated by six puzzle pieces," Macksoud said.

Lacombe said consolidation has to be what is good for residents, not individual districts.

"We definitely would like to see consolidation, but I personally don't think that's going to happen," he said, noting that prior efforts to merge flopped.

Lacombe said Londsdale ultimately backed out of a merger attempt with Albion and Saylesville, whose plan failed because of commercial tax rates in the districts meaning residents would not have seen the cost-saving benefits they had anticipated.

Lacombe said he does not think any third-party study conducted would help sway districts one way or another.

"I personally think it's not going to make a difference," he said. "There are some districts who are dead set against the merger or consolidating."

The timing of the study was also called into question. Councilors and Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond have talked about conducting a study prior to any townwide vote that outlines what an ideal district would look like in Lincoln, assuming one did not exist.

Russo said the study, which may be put to voters for funding at May's Financial Town Meeting, would have to be completed in time to get a 2014 referendum question to the General Assembly by June. Macksoud said a non-binding referendum question could be submitted by August.

But Allen said having a study done prior to the referendum question could make residents think minds had already been made up. He suggested asking voters in an official referendum question if they wanted another study.

"I 100 percent disagree with another study. We don't need another study. We have people that know what they're doing," Allen said.

Allen, who has lived in town for 61 years, said he and others know Lincoln better than an outsider who will ride around town for two weeks and focus on numbers.

"We're still old time New England. That's going to leave a bitter taste in their mouths," he said. "I don't think we're being obstructionist in our view. I think the town should have a townwide fire department."

Macksoud clarified that the fire study would answer pointed questions about town demographics, infrastructure and equipment to develop a framework. Without it, he said he does not think voters could make informed decisions.

Ron Rivet, chairman of the Lime Rock Board of Commissioners, said the question of cost will be the most important to most residents, and should be considered prior to any referendum question.

"What is that going to cost? That's what I'm going to ask. That's what taxpayers want to know," Rivet said, adding that while some may pay more and some less if the districts consolidate, hopefully the town as a whole will not see an increase in taxes.

Flynn said the study should be done and followed by discussions with each of the fire districts.

"Until we do that study, we're just going to be spinning our wheels, talking in circles the same way we've been doing for five or six years," he said.

Commissioners also talked about their districts' most dire problems, including essentially training callmen and firefighters for other towns.

"We don't have the money to put people on full-time," Lacombe said. "I'm sure a lot of the other districts are feeling the pinch, as well, as far as manpower is concerned. We're training people who leave for full-time work at another department. It's not financial with us, it's manpower."

He said consolidation may be more about best using manpower than saving money.

Allen said Albion lost five employees to Central Falls, Pawtucket and New York in the past year.

"We're like the Pawtucket Red Sox," Allen said, explaining that employees will always be drawn to cities and towns with more action.

Griffin chimed in, "That's what Central Falls calls Lincoln. We're the farm team."

It is for this reason that Lime Rock stopped offering volunteer positions years ago, Rivet said, and instead employs full-time firefighters and part-time callmen.

"Once you're scheduled, you're not a volunteer," Rivet said, not like the days when volunteers heard an alarm, stopped what they were doing and headed into the station.

The four stations in Albion, Lime Rock and Lonsdale currently operate 24 hours a day, commissioners said. But whether the number of employees on at night would technically meet National Fire Prevention Association standards if all of Lincoln was considered one district would be a question for the chiefs, they said.

Districts already share services when needed, Allen explained, as well as respond to confirmed fires in other towns, but regularly pitching in to respond to unconfirmed fires can put "wear and tear" on the trucks.

"It's like your cousin who comes to your house every weekend because he knows you have an in-ground pool," he said. "It gets to be a pain after a while."

Equipment sharing in the event of consolidation could work, commissioners said, because despite the difference in sizes between one districts' hoses to the next, all have adapters that are currently put to use when needed.

They also talked about Manville's new purchase of a $868,000 ladder truck when Albion and Saylesville each have one and Almond had asked all districts to hold off on making large purchases, Allen said.

Griffin said once that ladder truck arrives, Lincoln will have three, the second most in the state behind Providence and tied with Cranston.