Submitted by First Selectman Peter Tesei and Fire Chief Peter Siecienski, March 3, 2016
The First Selectman’s responsibilities are to protect public safety, provide quality public education and deliver public services that enhance the value of our community’s homes and businesses. The Town administration has an obligation to present a budget that it feels will best serve the residents of the Town.
The First Selectman’s current budget proposal for 2016-2017 includes two initiatives that will address critical public safety priorities and equalize fire protection across Town.
First, a request for four new firefighters will advance a plan to reduce the life safety hazards our firefighters currently face when they provide the initial response to incidents. If funded, this initiative will increase the staffing level at the Byram Station. This is part of a four-year plan to increase the number of firefighters assigned to engines staffed by career personnel. This phased approach reduces the pressure on the operating budget with minor incremental growth and continues our long standing goal of a modest and predictable tax rate.
Second, a request for funds to design a new joint Fire and Greenwich Emergency Medical Service (GEMS) facility will address the need to provide adequate fire protection to Northwest Greenwich and will ensure that GEMS has a permanent home in that area. Currently, response times for fire-related incidents in the Northwest far exceed recommended thresholds.
The need to maintain our current fire stations and move forward with a new station in the Northwest has long been identified. In December of 2000, the Fire Station Improvement Plan was initiated to address the condition of all stations. This led to the Cos Cob and Glenville renovations, Central Fire Station reconstruction, and planned for the renovation of the Byram and Sound Beach stations (to be completed in the next five years).
This plan is consistent with the 1998 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which included the following as an action item: “Reinforce the neighborhood village concepts by…retaining fire stations, civic centers and religious institutions – all of which provide a sense of history and cultural place.”
In 2004, the Town purchased a piece of property on King Street for Fire and GEMS; it was later determined that the site could not accommodate both services. The 2009 POCD included the following as an action item: “Funding for the new fire station on King Street should be provided.”
Over the last several budget cycles, the administration has worked to educate the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), and the general public on the need to move forward with increased staffing and a Northwest fire station. We have presented a historical review of the issues and provided comprehensive research and analysis on both initiatives. Last summer, we convened a panel to discuss these issues with the members of the BET.
The First Selectman’s budget proposal addresses pressing public safety needs in a way that minimizes the impact to the taxpayer. These initiatives are presented in a budget that is within BET guidelines. The administration has identified the needs, and has presented a clear plan for addressing them; it is now time for the BET to decide whether it is willing to recommend the funds necessary to follow through.
We appreciate the support the BET Budget Committee showed for the Northwest Fire/GEMS facility on February 29 by voting 3 to 1 (Leslie Tarkington voted against) to approve the land acquisition and design funds. However, the proposal for increased staffing was rejected for the third year in a row, with Chairman Jim Lash and members Mary Lee Kiernan and Leslie Tarkington voting against the proposal; only Jeff Ramer voiced his support for this initiative.
Waiting over a decade to address these critical public safety initiatives is long enough. Please attend the BET public hearing on Thursday, March 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room and voice support to the BET for both the new firefighters and the Northwest Fire/GEMS facility.
Peter J. Tesei