In the original version of this story on Jan. 12, 2019, it was incorrectly stated that an earlier town meeting voted down a proposal regarding the fire departments. The reference was to a discussion at the 2017 town meeting about creating a single fire district, based on the 2015 recommendations of a report by consultant John Woods. In his municipal fire study in 2018, Town Manager Ed Morris said “the discussion made it clear that the departments as well as the public were not in favor of moving in this direction.”
However, no vote on the subject was taken at that meeting, Morris told the Eagle Times. Following the discussion, the select board simply decided to not proceed toward a single district at that time.
The proposal to create a single Weathersfield fire department continues to be controversial. The select board has held a regular schedule of meetings with the members of the fire commission and both departments at which many concerns were expressed. Voters at town meetings will make the final decision on the municipal department as part of the town budget.
WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. — The select board earlier this week voted to take a part-time fire chief off the table, and put the cost of a new full-time municipal chief in the 2019-20 general budget, as opposed to a separate town meeting article.
The move very nearly shuts out the possibility that the change to a municipal fire department will not happen, unless the town meeting votes down the budget or takes some other action. Although the select board has the authority to make the decision, it could have also put the controversial plan to town meeting as a separate article.
The select board has held a series of open discussion sessions, where chair Kelly Murphy solicited opinions and ideas from both the Ascutney and West Windsor firefighting communities, as well as the general public. But advocates and members of the Ascutney Volunteer Fire Association had not put up a formal counterproposal until Monday, when at Murphy’s request they did so.
AVFA president Mark Girard presented two options: Option A was a bid contract of $95,000 to provide services, according to draft minutes of the meeting. Option B was to accept the change to a single municipal fire department but with a part-time chief and several conditions.
After public comments and discussion by the board, member John Arrison moved to reject Option A. The motion was seconded by Dan Boyer, and agreed to unanimously.
Girard said AVFA members were concerned, among other reasons, that the new municipal department will result in a tax increase. Asked directly if AVFA will support a full-time chief, Girard said he would have to ask the membership.
After further discussion, the board decided it was ready to vote on the question of proceeding with a full-time chief. The board voted unanimously to do so.
A later motion to put the cost into the general budget was approved on a 4-1 vote. The draft minutes do not specify who voted against the motion.