CUMBERLAND – The town’s plan to merge its four independent fire districts reaches a major milestone Wednesday when the Town Council votes to ask state lawmakers to approve the incorporation of a unified town fire district.
The state-approved incorporation would include the creation of a seven-member interim appointed fire committee by June 30 to govern and manage the finances of the unified fire district until a permanent committee is elected next year.
The council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 45 Broad St.
The vote comes two years after a voter mandate to consolidate the Cumberland, North Cumberland, Cumberland Hill, and Valley Falls fire districts, each of which bills residents and businesses for fire protection.
The resolution before the council Wednesday asks the General Assembly to enact legislation to incorporate a unified Cumberland fire district and to consolidate the four fire districts into that district.
According to the resolution, the interim appointed fire committee would include one member from each of the fire districts and three additional members appointed by Mayor Daniel J. McKee. Those members would serve until a town-wide election in November of 2014 of a seven-member permanent Cumberland Fire Committee.
According to the resolution, the interim committee will manage and oversee the four existing budgets of the existing fire districts and provide for the preparation and adoption of budgets and tax rates for each district for the following fiscal year, provided, however, that during the budget cycle for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2014, the interim committee may adopt a budget and tax rate for a unified district.
If approved, the existing boards of commissioners for the Cumberland Hill, Valley Falls, North Cumberland and Cumberland Fire Districts as created by the General Assembly will be dissolved and all of their powers and duties passed on to the interim and permanent fire committee.
Over the past four months, a three-member Fire Consolidation Subcommittee has been meeting with trustees from the four fire districts to discuss concerns and ideas relative to the consolidation plan. The subcommittee has also been working with Town Solicitor Thomas Hefner to come up with a plan for the implementation of a governance model and to develop a strategy to adopt that model.
The subcommittee was appointed a month after the Town Council was presented with a final report on the consolidation plan drafted by Donald I. Jacobs of Holden-based D.I. Jacobs Management Consulting Services. Jacob's company was hired to conduct a comprehensive feasibility planning assessment for the purpose of consolidating the town's fire services as either an independent, municipal or regional department. In its final report, the firm recommended the town consolidate the town's four independent fire districts as a single entity with one chief and one tax rate governed by one board appointed by the Town Council.
The study conducted by Jacobs was a three-phase process. The first phase was exploratory with Jacobs and his team - including Andover, Mass. Fire Chief Michael Mansfield - meeting and talking with all of the town's various fire chiefs, fire district trustees and district employees.
The second step was for Jacobs to come back to the town with a findings report in the fall. The third step was to develop a course of action with specific recommendations, followed by a series of public hearings.