Published October 17. 2013 4:00AM
Groton - A special meeting of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District on Wednesday approved a $4.6 million budget for the current fiscal year, more than voters approved in May, but not enough to raise taxes further.
The budget was approved 28-2.
The district's board of directors needed permission to spend the additional money because it set the tax rate to collect $3.5 million but hadn't initially factored in all of the town and state funding it gets. The district also had $720,000 remaining from the previous year.
The board distributed a written summary to voters explaining the situation.
The summary said that if the district were held to its initial $3.5 million budget, it would run out of money by March. It also said trying to stretch the money until the end of the fiscal year would result "in the immediate layoff of most of the 31 employees and the Fire Department will lose ability to respond to emergencies."
The summary outlined - in plain and specific terms - changes that have already been made, including:
• Firefighters will no longer respond from 13 Fort Hill Road Station - one of the district's two fire stations - starting Nov. 1.
• Two vacant firefighter positions will not be filled.
• Increased staffing during storms will be cut back or eliminated; the fire department will no longer pump out basements after flooding.
• Fire prevention programs have been mostly eliminated, including programs in elementary schools and day cares.
• Lights on fire alarm boxes have been eliminated along with most firefighter training programs.
Board members voted not to allow public comment or any amendments that would raise additional money.
Town Councilor Deborah Peruzzotti, who owns a house and a condominium in the fire district, said she would have liked to hear discussion before voting.
"It just seems like there are a lot of behind-the-scenes decisions being made," she said.
She voted in favor of the additional spending. "The thing that scares the bejesus out of me is not having fire protection," she said.
Board member Ron Yuhas said the board decided not to allow public comment because the board had a lawyer at the meeting and was paying for his time. But board member Deb Monteiro said she was unaware that public comment wouldn't be allowed.
"I would never have agreed to that," she said.