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Town Meeting: Weathersfield residents nix single fire department with full-time chief



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, March 05, 2019

WEATHERSFIELD — Residents on a 397-316 vote defeated a plan to spend $265,000 and create a single municipal fire department with a full-time chief to replace the town’s two volunteer departments, according to preliminary results.

In other tallies, former Selectboard member Dave Fuller was elected to a three-year term on the board over Thomas Leach, 471-211, in the only contested race in the Australian ballot voting. The town budget of $1.26 million and the highway budget of $1.2 million were approved.

The resurfacing of Center Road for $250,000 also passed easily, as did appropriations for Visiting Nurse and Hospice and Southeastern Vermont Community Action. The $5.9 million school budget passed, 360-342.

Besides the fire department, the only other article to be defeated — 358-311 — was a proposal to borrow no more than $160,000 over five years for a new grader.

The Selectboard and Town Manager Ed Morris had worked for several months developing a proposal for a town-run fire department based on a 2015 consultant’s report recommending it as the best option for the town to ensure quality of service, an improved working relationship among the two departments and the elimination of redundant expenses. Weathersfield currently provides some funding for the two volunteer departments in Ascutney and West Weathersfield.

West Weathersfield firefighters fully backed the change and had agreed to turn  over all of their firefighting equipment and trucks, except for the fire department building and land, to the town.

At the polls Tuesday night, West Weathersfield Fire Chief Josh Dauphin sounded disappointed after his department had worked hard to persuade the public to support a municipal department.

“We did our due diligence to get enough information out there on why this has to happen,” Dauphin said, adding that he was not sure why the article was defeated. “My whole membership did a lot to inform the general public. We kept asking what people saw as the disadvantages to this and there really have not been any.”

Most of the firefighters in the Ascutney department were opposed to a single municipal department. Attempts to reach Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The article would have required about $245,000 in taxes, an increase of about $65,000 from the taxes raised each of the last two years in support of the volunteer departments. But overall the municipal tax rate was projected to increase less than 1 cent if all requested appropriations passed.

Dauphin said that because the Selectboard already voted to move to a municipal department, there is no money now available for fire services in the budget when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Official vote totals, including write-ins, were not available at press time. Turnout was about 30 percent of the town’s 2,370 registered voters.