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Norwich - Comments on whether the city should spread the cost of the central city paid fire department citywide dominated the first public hearing by the Charter Revision Commission Thursday, three days after the City Council dropped a proposal to eliminate the double tax by ordinance.
Resident Bob Reed, who lives in the central City Consolidated District, called the additional fire tax - currently at 5 mills - "archaic and unfair." Reed said when he bought his house 24 years ago and saw the fire tax on his bill, he figured the old system couldn't last, figuring residents shouldn't be penalized based on where they live or have a business.
The fire tax is a "noose around the neck" of downtown development, Reed said.
But Vergason Avenue resident Kent Kirkpatrick said a uniform tax rate is "not justified." Kirkpatrick and others said they objected to the way Mayor Deberey Hinchey and Republican Aldermen William Nash and Sofee Noblick proposed the ordinance two weeks ago, by placing it on a council agenda with no advanced discussion.
Kirkpatrick urged the commission to keep the public informed on pending discussions and decisions on major proposed charter changes.
About 40 residents attended the first commission hearing in Council Chambers Thursday.
Commission Chairman Les King said all commission meetings on the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. are open to the public. Residents can also submit written comments and suggestions to the commission.
The previous City Council, headed by former Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, formed the charter revision commission in November and charged the commission to consider seven specific issues, with "adopting a single mill rate for the entire city" among them. The commission must make recommendations on those issues and also would be free to consider any other possible charter changes.
Nystrom addressed the commission and said it could consider a compromise, calling for partial volunteer firefighter coverage in the CCD to reduce costs. He said the issue didn't originate as a paid-versus-volunteer issue but as a response to the growing cost of the paid fire service downtown. This year's Norwich Fire Department budget totaled $9.1 million.
Several speakers veered from the controversial fire tax issue to address other items up for consideration. Board of Education Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso said when the commission considers creating staggered four-year terms for City Council members, it should do the same for the Board of Education. Currently, the six aldermen and nine school board members are elected every two years.
School board member John LeVangie said the council should consider converting Norwich to a strong mayor form of government. The 2001 charter revision created the four-year mayoral position as the head of the city's economic development efforts, retaining the city manager for daily city administration.
Two speakers said the commission also should abolish the Public Parking Commission, saying it is a detriment to downtown development, discouraging people from coming to downtown for fear of getting tickets.
Resident Pauline Topalis said she got several parking tickets going to Otis Library.
"Now I don't go the library anymore," she said.
Online: On the city's website, www.norwichct.org
By mail: To the city manager's office, City Hall, 100 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360