Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board president asks state for help

Groton - The president of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board has written a letter to the state's Office of Policy and Management, saying the district is in financial crisis, asking for help and saying the situation threatens the fire and emergency services of its residents.

Board President Alan Ackley wrote the five-page letter on Monday to David LeVasseur, acting undersecretary for intergovernmental relations at the Office of Policy and Management and to Attorney General George Jepsen. The letter asks for a meeting with OPM's municipal finance services unit or its advisory committee that helps financially distressed municipalities.

"The board is concerned for the safety and welfare of district residents because the lack of funds available to support operations threatens the district's ability to provide basic fire and emergency services," Ackley wrote. "Without some form of relief, the district may be unable to continue operations as early as January 2014."

The letter also said the district would likely challenge a recent State Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of the firefighters' union to Superior Court.

A copy of the letter, which includes the proposed budget for the current fiscal year as an attachment, was also sent to the governor.

Ben Barnes, the secretary of OPM, wrote Ackley a letter also on Monday. Barnes wrote that he had become aware from news reports and other sources that the fire district was struggling with financial and budget issues.

Barnes told Ackley that the office's Municipal Finance Advisory Committee works with districts in financial distress and makes recommendations.

"I invite you and the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District's Board of Directors to avail yourselves of the technical expertise of the MFAC," Barnes wrote.

The eight-member municipal committee can require a district's chief executive officer to appear and discuss finances, to take remedial action to improve its finances and to submit written reports of what actions it has taken based on the group's recommendations. The commission may also review audits, budgets, accounting and other practices.

Fire District board members met in executive session for 2½ hours on Tuesday with its lawyer and special legal counsel to discuss options for dealing with the budget crisis. The board reconvened having made no decisions or taken any votes, Ackley said.

But the board is expected to act at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday in the Groton Senior Center.

Among the issues expected to be raised is whether to appeal a recent decision upholding a 10-year union contract that provides annual wage increases of 3 percent.

The State Board of Labor Relations ruled in favor of the firefighters' union Aug. 28.

"The board will likely appeal the decision to the Connecticut Superior Court," Ackley wrote.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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