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Stonington - Residents of the Quiambaug Fire District on Monday put the brakes on a plan to hire the volunteer fire department's first paid staff member.
Taxpayers at a special meeting approved three motions that would delay the hiring until the district board approves written qualifications and provide a "proper budget," outlining expected costs. The third motion asks the district to explore the possibility of coordinating with other Stonington fire departments and avoid the need for a paid person all together.
District officials have said there is an immediate need for a firefighter to take over administrative duties and provide daytime responses to medical emergencies and fires.
More than 40 residents had signed a petition to request the hiring be delayed when, according to some gathered at Monday's meeting, questions arose about the district's increased budget.
District residents saw their tax rate jump from .65 mills to 1.8 mills. While the district had months ago approved a measure to hire a paid firefighter, the tax hike raised an extra $292,000 rather than the $140,000 that district board President Seth Wakeman said was budgeted for the new hire.
Board members admitted some overestimating, but Wakeman said in light of a delay to hiring, the $140,000 would be held in escrow for future expenses. Normally, he said, left over funds would go into the district's capital account, which currently has $1.1 million.
Old Mystic Fire Chief Kenneth Richards said the town's has a strong mutual aid agreement and because of the complex structures of the departments, their territories and tax district configurations, consolidation is a topic better left to the district boards.
Old Mystic Fire District President Carl Strand said any consolidation would have to come from a petition of taxpayers voting to extend an offer to take in a new district.
"And quite frankly," Strand said, "we're not out to take you over."
Quiambaug Fire Assistant Chief Chris Stamm said the idea of consolidation for many departments is a sound one.
"I'm sure discussions will continue," Stamm said. "I see pros and cons and most of us think the pros will ultimately outweigh the cons."
Greg Teifert, one of the residents who petitioned the board, remained unsatisfied after Monday's vote. Teifert said he had hopes the motions used in Monday's meeting would be a base for a larger discussion on the issues and more detailed outline of what the board should do next.