BURRILLVILLE – The Pascoag Fire District will hold its annual meeting on Monday, Sept. 14, with an agenda that includes election of officers, plus two proposals that failed to gain support from the majority of residents in previous votes.
A vote to sell a 2012, 3,000 gallon tanker owned by the village district is one item on the agenda, a cost savings measure that Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Chris Toti says is part of a long term plan to consolidate the department’s fleet.
Also back before voters is a proposal to replace the heating system at the Howard Avenue fire station, at a cost not to exceed $92,000.
While both items were rejected by Pascoag voters at meetings earlier in the year, Toti noted that the gatherings were held virtually, leading to both a limited ability to communicate with those who might weigh in, and a low resident turnout.
“I think sometimes when you have the Zoom situation, it’s tough to get the information out,” Toti said.
The annual meeting will be held at the station at 141 Howard Ave. starting at 7 p.m. While concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have led to delays in business, and meetings that have had to be held remotely since March, the annual meeting will be held in-person and will take place on its usual date – Monday on the weekend after Labor Day.
Toti noted that in order to make space for social distancing, trucks will be pulled out of the station garage ,and doors will be left open for ventilation.
Those unable to attend will also have the opportunity to vote by stopping by the station on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Voters will elect two fire commissioners, with current Commissioner Carmella White and Raymond Trinque running uncontested for three year terms. Bradford Provencal, who was appointed last year to fill the remainder of a term once held by Brian Mathieus before he resigned, is not seeking another term.
Instead, Provencal will run for the position of clerk for a one year term against Arthur Houle. Houle is also running for the job of moderator for a one year term against Vincent Micucci.
Some residents have questioned the reappearance of the tanker sale and replacement heating system on the commission’s agenda, but Toti noted that the group has done additional work since the public last weighed in, in June and August respectively.
“I know there’s been some criticism,” he said.
The vote on the heating system in August brought in less than 70 ballots, and the chairman said he felt there had been limited opportunity to communicate the commission’s process and objectives to residents in advance.
“It’s just such a low turnout,” Toti said. “The heating situation we put back on the agenda because time is of the essence. You’ve got to have heat.”
Toti said the initial vote may have failed due to concerns about both the process and the price. The commission put the project out to bid in December, and of the two bids that came in, $92,000 was the lowest.
“I think people might have been a little concerned about the $92,000,” Toti said. “That’s a lot of money.”
Since then, Toti noted that the commission, “went back to drawing board,” and reached out to four additional vendors. Two ended up bidding on the project, and a third bid was expected to come in on Monday, leaving the chairman hopeful that by this evening, he’ll be able to present a proposal with greater cost savings.
“One of the things I ran on was efficiency and accountability,” the chairman said. “We’re not going to waste the taxpayers’ money.”
“People can still say no, and that’s ok,” he added.
The chairman noted that the station’s current heating system, however, is on the brink of failure, and that if a second vote fails, the commission will have to come up with an alternative plan.
“The station potentially could be shut down,” Toti said. “It won’t effect the rescue service, but it could have some impact on vehicles.”
The current proposal would see the station switching from oil to gas for additional cost savings, but a contractor would need time to complete the large project before cold weather arrives.
“We’re really right at the edge,” Toti said of the timeline. “That’s why we put it back on again.”
The sale of the tanker, meanwhile, was voted down on June 11 with around 120 Pascoag residents weighing in. According to district bylaws, purchases over $50,000 need approval of more than two thirds of voters.
“It was a little over 60 percent, but you need 66 percent,” Toti said of the previous vote.
The vehicle, known as Tanker 4, is valued at $170,000, and was purchased with a 20-year bond that has 12 years still remaining.
According to Toti, the village fire department would see significant savings if the sale is approved. The chairman has said the move could result in $30,000 in savings on interest over the current length of the loan, along with $17,000 on principal.
The commission hopes to instead meet the district’s needs by purchasing an older tanker, but Toti noted that any initiative to replace the vehicle is considered separate, and would have to come back before the board.
In June, “We did have our eye on a piece of equipment, but it was predicated on selling that other piece of equipment. The board is seeking authority to sell this particular piece of equipment when the deal is right. Sometimes you have to move quickly.”
Toti noted that the initiative aims to get the district out of debt on vehicles, with an ultimate plan of reducing the size of Pascoag’s fleet. The chairman said he’s hopeful that PFD will be able to purchase a new rescue in a year and a half with cash, and retire two.
It’s a type of long-term financial planning that he fears may have been lost on some in the initial vote.
“I think sometimes there’s the communication barrier because of the Zoom meetings,” he said. “People’s attention has been focused on so many other things, maybe they haven’t tuned in as much. Hopefully, we can present this so people can understand.”
Either way, he noted, the decision comes down to voters.
“The public has the final say,” Toti said. “You’re hoping that the voter will trust that you’re working in the best interest of the taxpayers and the firefighters.”
The financial decisions are just the latest in a series of efforts aimed at improving operations and efficiency in the district, according to the chairman.
“There’s so many initiatives that we have going on,” he said. “I think we’re doing the right thing.”
The agenda for the Monday night meeting can be found here, and post-meeting voting will take place from 2 to 7 p.m on Tuesday.