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Discussion of a possible consolidation of the East Greenwich Fire District with town government officially moved beyond talk and into the factfinding phase Tuesday night.
The districtâs newly formed committee to discuss consolidation began its task with a meeting at Fire Station No. 1 on Main Street after the districtâs Board of Fire Commissioners and Town Council voted over the past two months to study the possibility of bringing fire and emergency rescue services under the townâs umbrella.
Commissioner William Daly, an ex officio member who will not vote, said the board will not vote on whether or not to recommend a consolidation, but will present a report to the commissioners and the council with the facts they need to make a decision. He said the committeeâs goal was to have a report ready sometime in June.
âWeâre not going to be coming up with the decision, but weâll be looking at the factors theyâll need. We donât want to drag it out,â he said.
The committee also includes former council member Dr. Mark Schwager, former councilman and School Committee member Carl Hoyer, Peter Sperduti, Stefan Coutulakis, Kathi Mullaney, and Tom Bacon (ex officio). Councilman Jeffrey Cianciolo serves as the councilâs liaison to the committee.
Previous looks at the possibility of a department merger include a 1994 ad hoc study committee and a 2006 report by MMA Consulting Group. Since the MMA report, the town has taken over the districtâs billing and tax collection, even though it wasnât a recommendation in the report, said district Chief Peter F. Henrikson.
Town officials have spent the past few months speculating on the possibility that a merger could save the town money and provide fire protection for less money than the districtâs fiscal 2011 budget of $5,055,636.
Committee members will be looking at other towns going through similar situations, including Lincoln, Cumberland and Coventry, and also municipal departments of similar size such as Portsmouth, Narragansett and Middletown.
âThereâs nothing wrong with looking at like-size communities even though theyâre not districts,â Henrikson said, adding that heâs interested in the three largest expenses: salaries, health care and pensions.
Sixteen of the stateâs 39 communities have fire districts instead of municipal departments.
Another community the panel will look at is Exeter, where Coutulakis, a retired district captain, is public safety director. Exeter now has a townwide fire district after having once had two fire companies governed by the town.
Cianciolo, a council newcomer who campaigned for a merger study, said the recent lack of participation in the districtâs annual town meeting may give a town-run department more accountability.
âIf Iâm a taxpaying resident and I donât have time to go to their meeting in June, I have no say in how the commissioners are elected. I go to vote in November for five councilors, and my vote will count more,â he said.
Daly said the commissioners have the necessary accountability to voters through their current election at the annual meeting.
âWeâve looked at the bylaws and tried to make the process more open, make the public aware of the candidates. Thereâve been times when weâve had (Swift Community Center) filled,â he said.
Hoyer said he preferred to have commissioners who are well versed in fire district matters in charge, but acknowledged the dropoff in voter participation.
âIâm an advocate of the financial town meeting, but Iâm also a realist. The financial town meeting is dead,â he said.
The committee will meet again at the Main Street station on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m.