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I would like to respond to the Letter to the Editor from Rachel Lussier (Oct. 20) about the fear of raised taxes if the Charter Revision question #2 concerning reorganization of Stamford’s fire service is approved on November 6. Her letter is replete with incorrect information and erroneous judgments.
She claimed that the volunteer departments of Stamford will not be able to attract volunteer because of pressures from the career Stamford Fire and Rescue Department’s union. This argument, which reflects tensions over the past decade, simply masks the true problem—that the volunteer departments are hurting for volunteers. This nationwide trend reflects our changed economy and how families live today. The volunteer departments are rooted in a time when the town of Stamford (North Stamford today) was rural and all hands left their farms to go put out a neighbor’s fire. It also is rooted in a time when Stamford was a manufacturing town where workers were available to help out with fires since their factories were nearby. Today, we are a finance and service economy focused downtown. Moreover, today’s two income families often cannot find the time to commit to be a volunteer fireman where nights are filled with tasks once done by stay-at-home moms.
Faced with this shortage, the volunteer companies pushed for Mayor Pavia’s plan which would unite the volunteer departments under one chief and hire over 50 career fire personnel at a cost of $8 million the first year; the proposed budget includes over $1 million to pay off Long Ridge Fire Department’s long overdue settlement to its own paid personnel. Ms. Lussier also claims that taxes would go up drastically because the SFDR would buy the volunteer fire departments’ property. There is no such plan; the volunteers and their communities will continue to own their own houses.
The SFRD proposed a counter plan to the Mayor’s plan which would not increase their budget. They are currently staffed at sufficient level in North Stamford to handle the workload that the Vols would have their new career hires perform. The SFRD proposal (known as the Brown Plan) was an attempt to demonstrate that reality. The Mayor only presented to the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety Committee the budget generated by the Vols. Requests from the Public Safety Committee for the Administration to cost out the Brown Plan too were met with silence.
Ms. Lussier only talks about the four volunteer departments, when in fact there are five (as in the Big Five!). Glenbrook Volunteer Fire Department, faced with a shortage of volunteers, invited the SFRD to stage an engine company there. It is still a volunteer department, but the career and volunteers train together, eat together, and put out fires together. Volunteers are increasing at Glenbrook and one volunteer has just been selected by SFRD to enter its new class of recruits. The experience at Glenbrook demonstrates that cooperation can succeed if both sides put their minds to it.
Don’t let fear-mongering over taxes stop you from voting for a Charter Revision that will improve the safety of all our citizens.
Eileen M. Heaphy
Board of Representatives, D-8