Wednesday night, despite questions on everything from office supplies to $750 digital cameras, the Board of Finance approved a $2.6 million budget for Waterford's fire services for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The board did cut $16,500 from the original proposal, which was a 3.3 percent increase from this year, but the cuts were all offered up by Fire Director Bruce Miller. The increase was largely due to increases in salary and utility costs, Miller said.
But the biggest news of the night happened at the beginning of the meeting, when Board of Finance member Norman Glidden voiced his concerns about the new way the town’s fire services are being run. The fire services' budget is now under the control of one person, the fire director, instead of the way it was, with the five fire companies running their services more independently, he said.
“I don’t know if (the volunteer firemen) see what is around the corner,” Glidden said. “You now have all the budgets under one person, and that means all the control under one person. Once the (control) is gone, it is gone.”
For years, each fire company would request a lump sum of money from the town, which was mostly spent by the volunteer chief on the volunteer firefighters. Much like the education budget, the fire company would ask for a total, and would have control over how it spent that money.
Waterford's paid fire service meanwhile was under the fire administrator. The administrator would have control over all of the paid firefighters, and his budget would have the same scrutiny as any other municipal budget.
Now, the fire administrator position has been replaced with the position of fire director, which has control over all the fire budgets in town. Before, the fire chiefs at the five departments would figure out how to spend their money, while now each dollar is broken out line-item by line-item.
The fire director has control over all of those dollars, and if the director wants to spend money designated for one line-item, say clothing, in another line-item, say fire equipment, the director would need approval from the Board of Selectmen.
The change was facilitated by a that eliminated the fire administrator position and created a more powerful fire director position. Miller, who was the fire administrator, was hired as the fire director.
Glidden’s concern, which was voiced by some members of Waterford's fire services during the charter revision, is that all of the power is now with one person. Instead, the fire companies should be independent, as they are volunteer organizations, Glidden said.
“I like to see the independent firehouses,” he said. “For an accounting perspective, I know this might be easier. But nothing worthwhile is easy.”
Meanwhile, other Board of Finance members disagreed. J.W. “Bill” Sheehan said the new system, with one fire director having full responsibility over the budgets, increase transparency to the taxpayer and gives the five fire companies more “flexibility.”
“I support it,” Sheehan said. “I think it provides more flexibility to the five fire companies.”
The five fire companies in town are , , , and .