Published May 29. 2014 4:00AM Updated May 30. 2014 12:11AM
Groton — Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Todd Paige said that the $3.9 million budget approved at the district's annual meeting Wednesday will not be enough money to run the department for a year.
The approved budget is $2.46 million less than the board had asked for and less than the current budget, which itself will likely leave the department with unpaid bills.
"The district cannot survive a full year and honor its obligations with $3.9 million," Paige said. The district's board of directors will have to decide what happens next, he said.
Town Councilor Joe de la Cruz, who lives on Corey Road and attended the meeting as a resident, said he couldn't believe the budget passed.
"If this was a school budget, there'd be people throwing rocks," he said.
The district board had proposed a $6.36 million budget, which would have raised fire district taxes 82 percent. District board President Alan Ackley said he never supported the budget proposal but felt he had to approve it due to a disputed 10-year labor contract, now in court.
De la Cruz said the vote looked set up to him: The board proposed an unreasonably high budget amount, angered voters until they showed up en masse and then waited for them to vote for a lower amount. More than 200 people jammed the Groton Senior Center for the meeting.
"You see a large crowd like that and you put a huge increase in front of them, and there's blood in the water," de la Cruz said.
Taxpayer Barry Adcock said at the meeting the proposed budget was "astonishingly, overwhelmingly burdensome for every taxpayer," and volunteers could do just as good of a job protecting homes.
His mother, Ann Adcock, agreed. "To stand here and say we're going to burn to death if we have volunteers is not true," she said.
Marion Lamb, who lives on Johl Drive, said she was happy about the vote. "I don't want to pay all these taxes," she said. "We pay enough in the town of Groton."
Taxpayers also approved a measure directing the board to plan, recruit, train and use volunteer firefighters. The meeting elected two new district board members and re-elected one incumbent board member, all to serve three-year terms. Board Member Tom Santacroce was re-elected. Newcomers David King, an employee of Electric Boat, and Ronald Johnson, a judicial marshal and member of the Poquonnock Bridge Volunteer Fire Department, were also elected, replacing board members Kenneth Richards III and Deb Monteiro, who usually voted in the minority.
Monteiro, who did not sit with her colleagues on Wednesday, called seeking re-election "an exercise in futility."
She pointed out that the woman who proposed the $3.9 million budget that passed worked for a district board member.
"This is all pre-arranged and fixed," she said, adding, "You're going to destroy the district."
Gale Goode, who proposed the $3.9 million budget, said she worked for the state mental health department for 25 years before retiring and now works part-time at the package store owned by Ackley, the district board president.
"So what?" she said. "I have an opinion. I'm a taxpayer. I've owned a house for 17 years on Corey Road and my family owned a house on Midway Oval for 50 years."
Richards sought re-election but was ousted.
"There's no way this district can sustain itself," he said.
Poquonnock Bridge closed one of its two firehouses last year and started using a pickup truck to respond to medical calls to save money.
Katrina Cotfer, who lives on Indian Field Road, said her homeowner's insurance doubled to $1,500 after the district closed the Fort Hill station.
Board member Nancy Beckwith said the board was advised that insurance rates are a function of a homeowner's credit.
Cotfer said she and her husband have "excellent credit" and she was told specifically the increase was due to the distance from a firehouse.
Poquonnock Bridge has a budget of $4.6 million this year and drained a reserve of more than $760,000 to help pay its bills, Paige said. The fund is empty, and the district is expected to be about $15,000 short for the year, Paige said.
"I'm pretty much at a loss for words as to the level of stupidity," retired Fire Marshal Adam Wojtcuk said after the vote.