by Robert Lynch; June 14, 2023
The Enfield Town Board Wednesday chose to go where a former Board refused to go 16 years ago. Beginning in early October, contractual oversight of the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) will shift from the Town Board to a five-person Board of Fire Commissioners, its members yet to be appointed.
By a pair of unanimous votes, the Town Board first dissolved the “Fire Protection District,” whereby the Town Board approves fire protection contracts, generally multi-year agreements, with the EVFC. It then established a “Fire District,” where the Commissioners would replace Town Board members in providing administrative oversight.
In 2007, Enfield previously considered creating a Fire District to assume oversight responsibilities, but quickly dropped the idea for reasons never completely explained to the public.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” this writer, Councilperson Robert Lynch, told the Board as he offered the final comment among Board members prior to Wednesday’s decision. “But it is broke,” he said, arguing relations between the Town Board and Fire Company personnel have been strained for decades, and that transfer of authority to a Commission may prove the only thing that helps mend the wounds.
“In my opinion, Enfield’s difficulties with its fire company have never been as much of a budget problem as a people problem,” Lynch said, quoting from an essay he’d posted on this website Monday. “Best put on a bumper sticker, some of us believe the EVFC spends too much money and has too many toys,” he said. “How many times must we draw attention to the Fire Company’s truck wash?”
Going into Wednesday’s meeting, most predicted the governance change would pass, as three Town Board members had already signaled their support for handing over governing and budgetary responsibilities. But Lynch had maintained his neutrality right up to the evening’s vote.
Board action followed nearly two hours of Town Board deliberations and a Public Hearing, well attended by approximately a dozen EVFC volunteers. Only one resident spoke against the planned reorganization. When Lynch called for a show of hands, nearly all of the Fire Company volunteers indicated they’d support Commission governance.
To avoid Fire Commissioners the Town Board will appoint from standing for election as soon as this December, the Town Board’s Resolution delayed the governance change from taking effect until October second. But to avoid the hasty election, the Board cannot appoint Fire Commissioners until that date. Nevertheless, the Town Board voted Wednesday to solicit interested candidates to step forward as soon as next month. Designees chosen informally, perhaps in July, would work in crafting a next year’s Fire Budget and performing other necessary work. The Town’s current three-year contract with the EVFC expires at year’s end. The Town Board’s majority Wednesday showed little interest in writing a new fire contract itself.
Under the soon-to-be-created Fire District, major capital spending, but not the budgets themselves, would become subject to public referenda. Nonetheless, a vote would occur if the proposed budget’s spending exceeded a Statutory Spending Limit based on the Fire District’s total assessed valuation.
For a time Wednesday, based on current year figures, some feared a 2024 budget for the EVFC would require a late-summer public vote, a snag that could complicate putting the Fire District in place this year. But should the EVFC exclude debt service from its calculation (and the Town’s retained attorney predicted it can), the complicating late-summer vote could likely be avoided.
[Expected more to be posted on this story.]