Albion and Saylesville Fire Districts again considering merger

Albion and Saylesville Fire Districts again considering merger

Addressing taxpayers at the Albion Fire District’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, Chief Richard Andrews explained the reasons for considering merging with Saylesville Fire District. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)
Goal: Avoid becoming Cumberland

LINCOLN – Talk of another fire district consolidation has officially been rekindled in Lincoln, with the Albion Fire District considering merging with the Saylesville Fire District, which merged with Lonsdale last year.

The topic of consolidation was brought up at Tuesday night’s annual taxpayers meeting at the Albion Fire Station, and is on the agenda for tonight’s Oct. 11 wardens meeting at the Saylesville Fire Station.

“This is on the agenda so we can notify the membership of the (Albion) Fire District that there are some ongoing discussions between the Saylesville and Albion Fire Districts, taking place through a joint committee made up of members of each district’s board of wardens and their fire chiefs,” said Attorney Louis DeSimone.

The joint consolidation committee last met in 2013, when Albion was in discussions with both Saylesville and Lonsdale, considering a three-district merger.

Former Commissioner Mike Napolitano said the discussion occurred more than three years ago, when Saylesville and Albion had their financials audited but Lonsdale did not.

“They hadn’t had an audit in years, and we refused to merge unless their financials were checked,” Napolitano said. “We would have absorbed all of their financial problems, so that’s why we did not go forward with the consolidation at that time.”

One resident asked what would be accomplished by merging the districts, noting that in Cumberland, merging districts was “going to be the answer to all problems and turned out to be the biggest disaster they ever did.”

“That’s the reason for the joint commission at this point … to make sure that what happened in Cumberland doesn’t happen here,” said DeSimone, noting that merging now would create a larger district to assist officials if there is ever a forced municipal or state takeover.

“We are all well aware of what went on in Cumberland, but we are set up a little differently than them,” said Albion Fire Chief Richard Andrews.” They absorbed all of their districts at once with 50 employees and did away with all of their surpluses.”

For now, Lincoln’s other three departments, Lime Rock, Manville and Quinville, are steering clear of any consolidation discussions. Andrews said merging with Saylesville makes the most sense because the districts both have six full-time firefighters aided by part-timers and on-call people.

“There’s nothing wrong with the other districts, but we’re trying to do this with Saylesville because we’re more alike than different,” said Andrews.

He said the benefits of consolidation include a stabilized tax rate with more revenues available and more efficient operations, with only one chief, board of wardens, treasurer and tax collector. Andrews said the district could also save significant funds over time in replacing apparatus.

Attorney DeSimone, who heads up the joint consolidation committee, said there will be a special report based on their findings. Members are aiming to send the request for consolidation to the General Assembly in January of 2019. Ultimately, the decision would be put to the taxpayers with a vote, as it was for Saylesville’s merger with Lonsdale last year.

Taxpayers from both Lonsdale and Saylesville voted overwhelmingly in favor of combining, effectively surrendering Lonsdale’s charter to Saylesville, which had been answering the former district’s calls since it was determined to be financially insolvent in June of 2015. Town officials had suggested at that time that the focus be placed on merging the Lonsdale and Saylesville districts rather than attempt a town-wide consolidation.

In other Albion Fire District news, taxpayers who attended the Oct. 9 meeting voted to approve a 2019 budget of $1,178,978 for the district, an increase of 2.2 percent over last year’s budget. The current tax rate will not change.

Chief Andrews is applying for a $45,000 grant in hopes of covering the cost of replacing the district’s 25-year-old Jaws of Life, however, taxpayers approved an expenditure of $30,000 to do so if the grant request is denied.