On November 6th , voters in Stamford will get an opportunity to vote on a number of Charter revision questions, but none with the potential long-term impact of Question #2.
Question #2 involves major changes in the way fire service is delivered and funded in Stamford. The fire service has been hotly debated in the Advocate, by the Board of Representatives, the Board of Finance and in countless other meetings and forums. In the end, none of these bodies chose to make a decision and it was punted to the Charter Revision Committee.
We understand why the union is asking you to vote “yes” on this Charter Revision question. If voters change the charter, it will triple the area covered by Stamford Fire and Rescue. The union has said they can do this without increasing costs. However, for years they have asked for more money annually to pay for exorbitant overtime costs, citing too few men to cover their existing downtown district. The question voters need to ask is…were they lying then, or are they lying now?
Enlarging their district definitely means hiring more men, as well as promotions for officers. Neither the Board of Representatives nor the Board of Finance would have passed a plan without thoroughly scrutinizing the budget implications and the effect it would have on taxpayers. But the Charter Revision proposal does just that.
There is little argument voting “yes” will raise taxes citywide. C and CS districts will be changed to A districts once you fully fund a career fire service. The budget for a department like Belltown, that currently costs the taxpayers only $150,000 annually - with nothing for salaries, overtime or pension - will skyrocket if volunteers are replaced by 12-man unionized crews. The increased costs to the community will be mirrored in all the volunteer districts. Salaries for Stamford firefighters average over $100k a year with benefits, and those benefits and pensions do not end on retirement… taxpayers keep paying, for another 20+ years in some cases. This is before capital and equipment costs, which are not insignificant. Do the math.
Voting “no” will mandate the Board of Representatives to work with the Mayor to develop a workable plan for the fire departments; one that is equitable for all stakeholders, and that will result in the best outcome for the citizen’s of Stamford.
While change is often a good thing, it should be fully thought out and fiscally prudent. Question #2 is a misguided quick fix, where the only clear winner is the fire union. As a taxpayer I am astonished the question is being placed on the ballot without a price tag attached.
Please be sure you understand the consequences before you cast your vote on November 6th.
Stephen Gladstone is a home inspector who lives in Stamford with his family and has been a Volunteer Member of the Belltown Fire Dept for over 35 years.