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With large turnout, Noankers pass budget and hear updates in annual meeting

Groton — The Noank Fire District Executive Committee saw an impressive turnout at its annual meeting Wednesday night but no shakeups, as the increased budget and tax rate passed handily and Noank Fire District Zoning Commission Chairman Rick Smith fended off a challenge to his seat.

"This is amazing turnout; oh my gosh. I'm so happy everybody is involved," Executive Committee member Katherine Rathbun said, addressing a crowd of about 200 people sitting in folding and lawn chairs on the basketball court outside the firehouse. She and fellow committee members Michael Noel and Frank Socha were reelected for 2021-22.

With no opposition, residents approved — by a voice vote — a $538,942 budget and a tax rate of 1.68 mills, up from a $466,187 budget and 1.28 mills.

The two largest increases in the budget came from legal expenses, from $15,000 to $50,000, and the fire department, from $209,506 to $236,731.

Rathbun said with the proposed regulations on short-term rentals, it has sometimes been necessary for the Zoning Commission to consult with an attorney, and "it is anticipated that additional costs will be inevitable." Smith later said that "activity has been and will continue to be acrimonious," and whatever action the commission takes, a legal action could result from either side.

Noank fire Chief David Steel said the increase in the fire department budget is mostly for physicals and radio equipment. He said the department wasn't able to get physicals done last year, and firefighters used to go to Seaport Medical Center for physicals but that closed and the new place is more costly.

Steel said he also is researching the idea of joining the state police radio system, as the Town of Groton and City of Groton police departments have done, and put aside $20,000 for that. He said the current system is "kind of antiquated and it needs a lot of maintenance."

The firehouse roof was replaced this past year at a cost of about $100,000. Executive Committee member Michael Noel said $50,000 was borrowed from the firetruck fund and the water company picked up the other half.

Elections and updates

Among the five permanent members of the Zoning Commission, Smith was the only one up for reelection to a five-year term. Gabi Smillie, a short-term rental operator who feels the proposed regulations are too restrictive, also was nominated. Smith ultimately received 108 votes to Smillie's 89.

Smillie and her husband, Brad, also were nominated to be alternates to the commission. But seven people were nominated for five spots, and the Smillies didn't make the cut. The top five vote-getters were Hansina Wright, Lynne Marshall, Larry Dunn, Tom Leary and Mary Ellen Furlong; Marshall and Dunn currently serve as alternates.

Smith said he expects the Zoning Commission to hold a special public input meeting on the short-term rental ordinance in late June or early July.

Two Park Commission members were reelected, and the commission doesn't anticipate any large expenditures for the next year.

In an update on the fire department, Steel said there were 263 calls from May 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, and zero structure fires. Steel's predecessor, Richard Latham, died earlier this month at age 93. Latham was a member of the Noank Fire Department for 63 years, including 30 as chief.

The biggest issue for the water department is repair work on the Mosher Avenue bridge, and Rathbun encouraged residents "to be alert to detours as necessary."

For the Noank Historical Society, the past year has been quiet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the museum on Sylvan Street is expected to be open this summer.

e.moser@theday.com

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