Harrisville fire approves $1.6 million budget, looks to resume consolidation talks

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BURRILLVILLE – The Harrisville Fire District approved a budget of $1.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year at their annual meeting Monday night amid talk of resuming efforts to discuss uniting the town’s independent departments.

“I truly do think it’s time that fire departments start looking at how they operate,” said Chief Michael Gingell following presentation of the fiscal plan. “I don’t have the answer- whether it’s consolidate, combine or change of service. But I think it’s time.”

As village districts in town face increasing operating costs and struggle †o recruit volunteers – once the bedrock of the small, independent departments – talk of consolidation has surfaced with various factions over the past year.

But opposition to the idea remains strong with many longtime fire officials, and efforts to begin serious conversations have ultimately fizzled.

“There was little interest,” Gingell said of previous talks. “When it was time to be serious, they didn’t show up.”

Harrisville’s $1,615,259 budget includes a $75,000 increase to hire a new deputy fire chief, an expense questioned by district clerk Nathan St. Pierre.

“I’m just worried about growing too big too fast,” St. Pierre said in opposing the move.

The budget also includes thousands in repairs to maintain firefighting vehicles and equipment.

“That’s the kind of stuff that we, the board, and the taxpayers have to face when you have to fix fire apparatus,” noted Gingell.

EMT and firefighter salaries make up the largest expense at $387,000.

It was St. Pierre who began discussion about sending letters to Burrillville’s three other districts – Oakland/Mapleville, Pascoag and Wallum Lake, which operates under Pascoag – to ask if they would sit down to talk about consolidation.

“To me, if done right, there can be benefits,” he said.

The Town Council made a similar effort in June of last year, but ultimately tabled the effort following negative feedback from districts that felt any changes should be led at the village level.

“That became a political hot potato and they ended up backing off,” said Committee member Clinton Remington.

But since that time, residents voted to dissolve the Nasonville district following a labor dispute. In Pascoag, growing unrest with district management has led to several legal battles.

“In reality, it’s happening as we speak,” said Remington. “Nasonville’s gone. It would be better to do it in an organized fashion.”

Opposition to the idea came from Office Manager Brenda Gingell, who pointed to still unsettled lawsuits in Nasonville and Pascoag.

“Who wants to consolidate into that?” she asked. “My biggest concern living here is when you consolidate, it’s everything.” 

The committee noted the topic would be discussed at a future meeting, so it can be noted on the agenda, and interested residents have the chance to weigh in.

The committee also approved a $882,302 budget for the Harrisville Water Department, and elected board members to serve on the committee for the next three years, with no major changes.

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