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[Letter to the Editor]: 'Straight Talk from One Tax Payer to Another'

A letter from Rachel Lussier regarding Charter Revision Question #2.

On the face of it, it makes perfect sense: Consolidating a patchwork of individually self-managed fire departments into one large department that would serve the entire city of Stamford. The financial implications of such a change however makes the argument for consolidation less convincing especially given the current economic climate.

There are four individually self-managed volunteer fire departments in the northern districts of Stamford. The sticking point is management. If the Volunteer departments continue to be self-managed they can ensure the tradition of citizen volunteers, i.e. free labor. But if Charter Revision Question #2 is approved, the management of these departments will be turned over to Stamford Fire & Rescue Department (SRFD), which is an all paid, all unionized fire department that currently supports no volunteers in their district.

The problem regarding consolidation is the inherent conflict of interest from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) who actively discourage the use of volunteers to fill positions that could otherwise be paid (unionized) fire fighting positions. Acknowledging that volunteers are “important” as outlined in Charter Revision Question #2, does not guarantee their use as a low cost alternative to paid full time city employees.

If we vote for consolidation with SFRD the financial burden to taxpayers will crescendo when the current 100+ active volunteers in the four departments inevitably is reduced due to the pressures & coercion of the union’s interests - more paid positions & expanded membership. Further, the considerable cost of purchasing the six pieces of real estate which house the volunteer fire stations and the dozen or so apparatus, each privately and individually owned by the four volunteer fire departments which are designated as 501 c 3 corporations, will have to be paid for by us.

While I am friendly with people on different sides of this issue, I am an admitted advocate for the average Stamford tax payer. Many numbers have been brandished by both sides, some inflated, some grossly understated. What is missing is the ‘best case/worst case scenario’ cost per household should Charter Revision Question #2 pass. Also unanswered is how the tax burden would be distributed if the consolidation were approved. Potentially every Stamford resident could be exposed to tax increases, including renters who would likely see rents increase to help shoulder the costs of their tax paying landlords.

The Board of Representatives (BOR) has unloaded Charter Revision Question #2 to the public because the decision is too politically volatile. The BOR risks alienating the IAFF or alienating the tax payers who will inevitably feel the financial pain of higher property taxes. So we as residents have to vote to signal to our elected officials how we stand with regards to property tax increases. In my neighborhood there are numerous houses for sale and even a couple of blighted properties. I question how much more this real estate market can tolerate in property tax increases especially compared to our neighbors with comparable taxes but who enjoy higher quality school systems.

There is little doubt that the Byzantine system of four individually self-managed volunteer fire departments is ripe for reorganization but to surrender the cost benefits of volunteer manpower in the current economic crisis would be fiscally reckless. These volunteer departments were created about 70 years ago during our nations greatest financial hardship. When we face economic challenges second only to that Great Depression can we really afford now to give up such a valuable resource that the volunteers provide?

As a neighbor & tax payer, I ask you to consider carefully what we can afford both individually and collectively when you vote on Charter Revision Question #2.

Rachel Lussier, 

Stamford Resident

Jake October 23, 2012 at 04:30 PM
• A vote YES means there will be ONE Fire Chief for the entire City of Stamford. Right now there are SIX. • The 5 volunteer fire departments will still exist and be a vital part of the Fire service in Stamford. They will answer to The Fire Chief. Right now they do not answer to anyone. Not even the Director of Public Safety or The Mayor! • There will be an Assistant Chief of volunteers that they will have a voice in choosing. • The Stamford Fire Rescue Department is currently stationed in all the volunteer districts, except Belltown and Long Ridge. We do respond into all the “volunteer districts” on a daily basis and have been for several years. • THE OPPONENTS of question #2 have said, 100 new firefighters would have to be hired. THAT IS COMPLETELY UNTRUE! • There are NO “new taxes” as the opponents would have you believe. That is just a scare tactic they are using. On November 6th, I will be voting YES on Charter Question #2! I hope you will too, FOR A SAFER STAMFORD!
Mike October 23, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Unless Stamford Fire and Rescue signs a LEGAL DOCUMENT saying that they will not request additional funds to provide coverage for the entire city, then I will agree. Fact is, they can't :)
Mike October 23, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Also, why did Stamford Fire and Rescue first state that there would be no additional taxes or increases, then they changed it to "There shouldn't be an increase". I guess their attorney told them it would be illegal to make such a false statement. Pavia's plan was no better, but it offered more facts than this charter revision does.
Michael Kellick October 24, 2012 at 12:34 AM
If Stamford Fire & Rescue says that they can cover the northern districts with current staff, then that means they are overstaffed! Will they also be able cover the expanded housing in the South End? Who will purchase the additional apparatus that they will need for the northern districts, such as a tanker - which is necessary for the areas that don't have fire hydrants, and a rescure truck. Currently SRFD only owns one. What if there is an accident on the Merrit and I-95 at the same time - what will be the priority? Just wait - if this passes - they will be asking for more funding for staff, equipment and a place to keep them! The proposition does nothing to solve the fire service crisis in the city. It wil create a financial crisis in increased taxes and decreased property values. Who will want to move to Stamford with higher than necessary taxes?
Here we go October 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Stamford Fire Rescue DOES support volunteers in their districts. We work with glenbrook fire department exceptionally well. Engine 6 is stationed there, and the volunteers are allowed to ride out with us. We get along fine with everyone there and since we have been there thier membership has increased!
Here we go October 25, 2012 at 02:03 PM
and why don't you tell the public how your plan will cost 8 million EXTRA the first year and the drivers for the new plan will be paid 10 THOUSAND MORE DOLLARS EACH than a driver for stamford fire rescue?
tell the truth October 25, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Stamford fire and Rescue is far from over staffed as has been stated by numerous opnents tot he question. Less take a trip back in time to when the volunteer districts had paid drivers in thier firestations back in 2009. These driver ..except for Long ridge...where ALL members of the union and City employees, they were just managed by the volunteers. They voted to come under one contract and be Stamford fire and resue employees. So to make a long story short...those employees that were covering those districts ARE STILL THERE they just operate under ONE CHAIN OF COMMAND instead of 6...so SFRD is NOT OVERSTAFFED!!!!

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