Poquonnock Bridge district residents looking at possible 82% tax hike

Groton - Taxpayers in the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District face a potential 82 percent tax increase - from 5.2 to 9.5 mills - based on budget totals approved so far for the coming fiscal year.

The fire district board hasn't finalized a budget but voted Tuesday to meet the salary demands of a disputed 10-year labor contract with the firefighters union. Board members are waiting for a ruling by a New Britain Superior Court judge as to whether they must honor the collective bargaining agreement that dates back to July 2012 and requires annual wage increases of 3 percent.

The dispute went to the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations first, which sided with the union. The district then appealed to Superior Court, and the judge recently sent the contract back to the labor board for review again.

"We have no decision from the court," District board Secretary Nancy Beckwith said Tuesday. "We have to assume we may lose."

In addition to back pay and benefits, the contract requires additional staffing, increased paid personal leave for firefighters and a boost in benefits for retirees.

Salary and benefits comprise the majority of the fire district's budget, and board member Peter Legnos estimated the final budget would be more than $6.5 million, or 41 percent higher than the current $4.6 million. Increased spending drives up the tax rate.

Taxpayers have the final say, however. Once approved by the board, the budget will go to the district's annual meeting, scheduled for May 14 at a time and place to be announced.

The board meets next at 6:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Groton Senior Center to finalize a spending plan.

On Tuesday, the board approved a salary account of $2.7 million for the coming fiscal year, about $736,000 more than current spending, saying it has little choice given the disputed contract.

"It's our duty to tell the public what they owe," board member Ron Yuhas said.

The board eliminated the fire inspector's job to save more than $100,000 in salary and benefits. The cut wouldn't cause a layoff because the fire marshal recently retired and the current inspector could move to his job, board members said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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