Fire Ward Issue Heats Up Enfield Meeting
Enfield Assistant Fire Chief Bob Pollard speaks in support of a petitioned article designed to keep the department’s officers from serving concurrently as fire wards during Town Meeting at the Enfield Village School yesterday. The article passed. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield Selectboard members Fred Cummings, left, John Kluge, center, and Donald Crate discuss an issue with Town Manager Steven Schneider, far right, during Town Meeting yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Cusick, a Capital Improvement Program Committee member, addresses a question about the funding of road repair in Enfield during Town Meeting yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield Assistant Fire Chief Tim Taylor, left, and Capt. Richard Martin, right, laugh together during yesterday’s Town Meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — Voters gave landslide approval yesterday to a policy that will preclude chief officers of the Enfield Fire Department from doubling as elected fire wards during a Town Meeting that also greenlighted the $6 million budget and several articles relating to a 15-year capital improvement plan.
The so-called “conflict of interest” policy, which was anticipated to produce the most lively discussion, lived up to its billing yesterday morning as residents picked up where they left off after approving the creation of a new zoning district last week. Opposition to the article — which passed by a vote of 125-22 — was muted at the meeting, with only two speaking against the article, including one of the fire wards whose dual positions conflict with the new policy.
The policy includes a one-year grace period before kicking in and will apply to all three of the fire wards — an elected position that has some oversight of the department. Chief David Crate and Assistant Chief Tim Taylor would be in conflict with the new policy, but Richard Crate, a captain with the department who won his re-election campaign against Christopher Bagalio last week, would not fall under its jurisdiction.
Bob Pollard, an assistant fire chief who said he has been with the department for 56 years, said yesterday that the “system is broken.”
“There’s no communication between the fire wards and the officers in the fire department,” he said. “We learn about things after they’ve been done. They claim to have meetings, but where are the minutes from these meetings? What is discussed?”
Taylor, who would be affected by the new policy, was one of the two to speak against the article.
“The chief that we have would give anybody the shirt off his back,” he said. “If you want to hammer on him, his comment to me was, ‘What are they doing this to me for?’ ”
“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Taylor continued. “He’s worked very efficiently, and the fire department is one of the best in this area.”
Selectboard Chairman B. Fred Cummings led the petition to institute the policy, and was also one of three members of the 10-person Budget Committee to speak in favor of the article. Lori Saladino and Sam Eaton, also on the Budget Committee, voiced their support of the article as well. There is $1,090 allocated in the budget for fire ward salaries.
Cummings pointed out the rank and position of the three fire wards, concluding, “Therefore, there is no accountability at all.”
“There are no checks and balances,” he said. “And that’s what this article seeks to create.”
Fire Capt. Richard Crate — the father of Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate Jr. — told the Valley News last month that ward leaders elect the fire chief, but ultimately the chief runs the department. He added that fire wards look at the budget as well.
Richard Martin said he served as a fire ward for three years, but declined to run again “because it is just an old system.” He described the policy as the department “taking baby steps just to have transparency” with the people of the town, and cited the age of the existing system, which he said originated in the 1930s.
“What happened in 1933 when (the fire ward system) started, they had the best interest of the town at heart,” he said. “With this (new policy), we also have the best interest of the town at heart.”
Enfield resident Jean Patten summarized her support of the policy in saying that the article was “not about people, it’s about positions.”
“I do think there has to be more accountability,” she said. “I feel that it’s time for a change, and I know … that change is not always easy, but it’s necessary.”
Voters also decided two other petitioned articles on the warrant yesterday, rejecting one that would have sought to build a boardwalk on a section of Route 4A overlooking Mascoma Lake and approving one that will ask the town manager and chief of police to review Enfield’s streetlights and determine whether to keep them, judging by a list of criteria.
The $6 million budget, which was unanimously approved by a voice vote yesterday, represents a $65,000 increase in spending, and will bump the tax rate up by 2 percent to $6.14 per $1,000 of assessed value — or $1,535 for a home valued at $250,000.
Those at Town Meeting also approved a $265,500 bond issue to repair Jones Hill Road by a vote of 117-19.
The project will restore a mile-long section of road and add a layer of pavement to another half-mile section. It will be the first major project to fall under the town’s 15-year capital improvement plan, which voters backed yesterday with the unanimous approval of $264,000 to be placed in the capital improvement plan capital reserve fund.
Also approved by warrant article yesterday:
∎ $150,000 to be spent on a salt and sand shed that will to be built at the public works facility.
∎ $15,000 to be spent on a storage shed at the transfer station.
∎ $63,500 to be used for the repair of Whitney Hall’s roof, as well as the purchase of a new heating and cooling system and waste oil burner.
∎ A combined $38,000 for police cruiser lease payments.
∎ $14,000 for a thermal imaging camera to be used by the police and fire departments.
∎ $2,800 to be deposited in the Cemetery Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.