A Conflict of Interest? Enfield to Decide if Fire Chiefs Can Continue to Serve As Ward Leaders
Tim Taylor joined the Enfield Volunteer Fire Department in 1978 and quickly became a lieutenant. He now serves as one of three assistant chiefs and one of three fire ward leaders. Taylor supports the current administrative structure of the department. “It happens everywhere, it’s not unique,” he said of the differences in opinion over the ward system. But for him the conflict is superseded by the volunteer fire service. “We do it because we love our community,” he said.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Donald Crate, left, was the fire chief in Enfield for 50 years. Early in his tenure the town purchased a creamery building from HP Hood and Sons for $1 and the renovated building remains the fire station. Two of Crates sons now serve as officers and ward leaders for the volunteer fire department. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Richard Crate is a captain on the Enfield Fire Department and a fire ward. He is one of eight children of Donald Crate, who served as fire chief for 50 years. “My dad really put his life into the fire department,” said Crate. “The whole family was dedicated to the fire department.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Valley News - Shawn Braley Purchase photo reprints »
Captain Richard Martin, left, and Assistant Chief Tim Taylor talk over the hood of the Enfield Volunteer Fire Department's ambulance. Martin, a former fire ward, supports a petition that would formally make it a conflict of interest to serve as a fire ward and a chief officer of the department. Taylor, a current ward, supports the current structure. Both agree, however, that whatever the outcome of the issue, they both support David Crate as chief. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Voting for Enfield’s town officers and amendments to the Zoning Ordinance will take place by official ballot on Tuesday, March 12, at Whitney Hall auditorium. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Articles four through 19 will be discussed and voted upon at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 16, at Enfield Village School.
Enfield — This year’s Town Meeting could be a lively one with a warrant article about fire wards that has members of the town taking sides and one selectman claiming a colleague has stopped talking to him because of the issue.
Enfield residents also are being asked to approve a zoning amendment that could reshape the Route 4 corridor on the east side of town. Residents will be asked to approve a $5.4 million budget, which will come with a projected 2 percent increase in the tax rate.
Selectman B. Fred Cummings petitioned a warrant article that says it would be a conflict of interest for chief officers of the fire department to serve as fire wards, who have a hand in overseeing the fire department. Currently, the fire chief, assistant fire chief and a captain are fire ward leaders.
“There are no checks and balances,” Cummings said in a Listserv posting. “It allows for accountability and makes it so that people in these positions don’t simply report to themselves.”
The petitioned fire ward article has created a divide among some residents, and Cummings said that a number of people, including another Selectboard member, haven’t spoken with him since he submitted the petition.
Article 18, which is about the fire wards, seeks to create a conflict of interest ordinance. Cummings explained on the Enfield Listserv that the article wouldn’t dissolve the fire ward system or replace the current fire chief, but instead ask the fire chief and assistant fire chief to not serve in both roles. Cummings is also a member of the volunteer fire department.
Richard Crate — the father of Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate Jr. — is a captain on the department and has been a ward leader for three years. He’s up for reelection this year, and Christopher Bagalio is running against him.
Crate explained that the ward leaders elect the fire chief, but ultimately the fire chief runs the department. The ward leaders look at the budget, Crate said, but there’s rarely any problems.
Crate said he doesn’t think it’s a conflict of interest for the fire chief to also be a fire ward, even though it’s the responsibility of the fire wards to elect a chief.
“There are three fire wards in the system and one just happens to be a fire ward and a chief,” Crate said.
But that’s the issue that concerns Cummings. In his Listserv post, Cummings said that the during the fire chief’s budget presentation, the chief said that the fire wards don’t have meetings, only discussions among themselves. There is $1,090 allocated in the budget for fire ward salaries.
Fire Chief David Crate, who is Richard Crate’s brother, did not return calls. Cummings said that fellow Selectman Donald Crate — who is also a brother of David and Richard Crate —hasn’t spoken to him since he submitted the petitioned article. When reached at home, Selectman Donald Crate said he had no comment.
Richard Crate said while he doesn’t agree with the petitioned article, he wasn’t aware of people in town not talking to each other and said he personally doesn’t want to see any hard feelings.
The Selectboard also has high hopes that the Route 4 zoning district will pass. Selectman John Kluge called the district the “most important thing happening in Enfield” during a January public hearing.
Last year at Town Meeting, residents approved a $3.2 million water and sewer line extension along Route 4. Now that the water and sewer work is nearing completion, the town is ready to update its zoning ordinance to help shape development between the intersection of Route 4 and Baltic Street and the Canaan town line.
“You can do what you want on your property, but we’re going to tell you how it’s going to look,” Town Manager Steve Schneider said.
The maximum building footprint would be 40,000 square feet, and the ordinance outlines the need for pitched roofs and landscaping. The ordinance encourages mixed uses, such as commercial on the first floor and residential space on the upperfloors. The ordinance also encourages pedestrian and bicycle access.
Voters will also be asked to approve $5.7 million in overall municipal spending, but that includes water and sewer operations which are not funded by taxes.
Excluding water and sewer, the $5.4 million in proposed spending is a 15 percent increase over the last calendar year and includes capital expenses and the warrant articles.
The property tax rate is expected to increase 2 percent. The current tax rate of $6.02 per $1,000 of assessed value is expected to rise 12 cents to $6.14 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would be a $30 increase on a $250,000 home.
The budget includes funding for regional agencies and a 2 percent merit pay increase for town employees.
About half of the tax increase comes from an article that would place about $264,000 into a capital improvement plan capital reserve fund. Schneider said that for several years, the town wasn’t putting any money into capital reserves, and now officials have changed their way of thinking, and the change has paid off.
“That’s a huge commitment for the town to make and it establishes some real fiscal discipline for us and keeps our tax rate at a stable place,” Schneider said.
As a result, there are several capital improvement warrant articles that won’t have an impact on the tax rate because they will be paid for by capital reserves, Schneider said.
For example, a $150,000 salt and sand shed for the public works facility would be paid for through capital reserves and have no impact on the tax rate. The same can be said for a proposed $15,000 storage shed at the transfer station and a $14,000 thermal imaging camera for the fire department.
There is also a $265,000 warrant article that would pay to repave and repair Jones Hill Road, which is covered with frost heaves and needs drainage work.
Also on the warrant is a petitioned article for a $72,000 boardwalk that would run a half mile along Route 4A. Bob Cavalieri has been working on the idea of a walking path since the state removed oak and maple trees to complete drainage work that was part of the Shaker Bridge project. When the trees came down, Cavalieri saw an opportunity for a walking trail.
Cavalieri met with contractors and came up with a $72,000 estimate for a boardwalk. But the budget committee and Selectboard did not recommended the article.
Selectman John Kluge said he supported the idea of walkway, but said he couldn’t support a project that has morphed into a $72,000 figure.
“It has gone from something of minimal cost to well over $70,000,” Kluge said. “I don’t want to be careless with taxpayers’ money.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.