West Shore voters approve fire budget

Published: Saturday, May 16, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

WEST HAVEN — West Shore voters narrowly approved an $8.85 million fire district budget at a special fire board meeting Friday night.

The 2009-10 budget, which passed by a vote of 57-54, requires a tax increase of 2.06 mills, raising the rate to 7.95 mills. The current rate in the district is 5.89 mills.

The vote came two weeks after home-owners rejected an $8.87 million budget that would have raised taxes by 2.19 mills. That budget failed by a vote of 174-66.

West Shore Fire Commission Chairman John Biancur said that the board will continue negotiating with the union, which has agreed to a two-year wage freeze, about contractual concessions.

“We would not have proposed this budget if we had another choice — we had no other choice,” Biancur said. “We’ve tried everything we possibly can in the time that we have. We will continue to work with the union.”

Several speakers Friday said they would like to see changes made to the firefighters’ pension and health care plans.

“If the Big Three in Detroit can go back to their unions and ask for concessions, and they did, then why can’t we do that here?” Ron Pelliccia asked.

Others questioned whether the district could save money by eliminating a firehouse. Fire Chief David Collins said that such a move would likely only save about $50,000 to $100,000.

“The operation of the district is not the part of our budget that is very expensive — it’s personnel and costs,” Collins said Friday. “I think that the (Ocean Avenue) station is well worth its three-man company. It provides an excellent response time to the lower portion of our district.”

Collins said the budget increase is due mainly to the retirement of five more firefighters than were budgeted for and a drastic rise in medical costs. The increase would be even higher, Collins said, if not for salary concessions recently negotiated by the union. Firefighters were supposed to receive a 3.25 percent raise starting July 1, but agreed to the wage freeze that starts next year.

Collins noted that the department will save about $400,000 a year over two years from a combination of the wage freeze and fewer expected retirements.

Residents approved the budget after rejecting an amendment that would have reduced the proposed appropriation by $50,000. Following the budget approval, voters approved setting the tax rate at 7.95 mills.

Voters also gave the commission the authority to borrow up to $500,000 in fiscal 2009-10, which Biancur said would be used in “catastrophic circumstances” such as the loss of a piece of equipment.

Also at Friday’s meeting, commissioners announced that Capt. Patrick Pickering has been chosen as the district’s deputy chief, a position that has been open since April 2008. The district will hold a swearing-in at a later date, Biancur said.

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