Groton officials want meeting on fire district

Groton - Two Groton town councilors asked Tuesday for a meeting with a member of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board, which expects to lay off nine firefighters - or about one third of the fire department - on July 25.

The councilors made the request after Fire District board member Ron Yuhas spoke during the public comment portion of the council meeting, saying fire district taxpayers are shouldering an unfair share of the burden of protecting tax-exempt property. Yuhas also told councilors the district would still get to fires but might not have the same level of response to emergency medical calls or accidents given the layoffs.

It is the first time the council has expressed interest in taking a more active role in the fire district's troubles, if only to seek a longer discussion with a board member. Several councilors also said they'd received correspondence about Poquonnock Bridge.

On July 10, nearly 100 firefighters and their families marched in Groton to protest the pending layoffs. Poquonnock Bridge covers 12,000 people, the business strip on Route 1 and most of town-owned property.

"Long term, it's the council's responsibility to see ... the injustices in the tax system," Yuhas said.

Councilor Joe de la Cruz, who lives in the fire district, said there are obviously issues that need discussion, and Councilor Genevieve Cerf said she'd like more information on what's happening.

Fire District board President Alan Ackley distributed spreadsheets to councilors before Yuhas spoke. They showed that on a house with an assessed value of $200,000, taxpayers in Poquonnock Bridge will pay $826 in fire district taxes this year - based on the budget with the layoffs - compared to $323.40 in the Mystic Fire District, $194.60 in Noank and $42.70 in Mumford Cove.

Poquonnock Bridge has roughly $5 million in personnel costs and is hearing from other fire departments that the layoffs will burden surrounding districts, Yuhas said.

But he added, "the burden's been on us, protecting all this town-owned property." A spreadsheet showed Poquonnock Bridge is responsible for more than $391 million of assessed, tax-exempt property owned by the state, town or other entities, compared to the second highest amount of $145 million in Groton City. Yuhas said he obtained the data from town tax rolls. The figures could not be immediately confirmed.

Poquonnock Bridge Fire District includes the high school, the Town Hall, Town Hall Annex, senior center, Groton Public Library and the town police station.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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