Wednesday, April 27, 2016
South Fire District Budget Referendum
The proposed budget approved by the South District Board of Fire Commissioners on April 13th totals $5.1 million and carries with it a proposed mil rate of 4.605 which, according to the Fire Commission, continues to be the lowest mil rate for any fire tax district in the state staffed with career firefighters. Other districts have mil rates ranging from 6.05 to 9.44 mils. The proposed mil rate for South Fire District represents less than a two-tenth of a mil increase over the current rate of 4.468. By comparison, residents of the Middletown Fire District who already pay a mil rate of 7.0, are looking at a possible
increase of a full mil to
8.0. Even at 8.0 mils, for the level of services the Middletown Fire District
provides to its residents, is considered reasonable and affordable.
South Fire District Commission Chairman David P. Gallitto has pointed out that any direct comparison of the proposed mil rate with the current rate would be an apples and oranges comparison due to a law enacted by the Connecticut General Assembly last year which put a cap on the mil rate for car taxes. The net effect of that law is that South Fire and the other two fire districts in the City of Middletown, Middletown Fire and Westfield Fire, will no longer be able to collect motor vehicle taxes since the mil rate for city government in Middletown already exceeds the state set cap. That law accounts for most of the 72.5 million dollar reduction in the South Fire District grand list.
The good news, according to Gallitto, is that with elimination of the car tax, the total South Fire District tax bill for most homeowners will decrease under the proposed budget since the only tax bill in July will be for real property and that amount will be up only slightly. “In general, the more cars a family owns,” he said, “the greater their tax saving will be.”
That change in state law, according to Gallitto, will result in a significant loss in revenue to South Fire and other tax districts. But, he noted, most of the car tax revenue being lost is being made up by special state aid to South Fire and other affected districts. Provision for that special aid was part of the legislation that capped the motor vehicle tax.
Included in the proposed South Fire District budget is funding for two additional firefighters which will bring staffing to 8 officers and firefighters on each of the four platoons needed to provide 24 hour coverage, 7 days per week. Eight personnel is still well short of the bare minimum of 12 to 15 firefighters needed in the first 5 to 8 minutes for a typical single family residential fire according to South District Fire Chief Robert Ross. The Chief added, “It is significantly below the number of firefighters needed in the early minutes for a multi-family dwelling fire or a commercial or industrial fire.” Ross did point out that additional manpower for all structure fires is assured under the city’s automatic aid plan. The plan, developed several years ago, directs Central Dispatch to send specific trucks from all three Middletown fire departments – South District, Middletown, and Westfield – to every structure fire in the city, regardless of district. The plan also assures that trucks and manpower are still available in the city for additional emergency calls that are received.
Chief Ross stated that because of South District’s size and geography, its firefighters must be trained and equipped for a wide variety of fires and other emergencies. Included within the boundaries of the South Fire District are massive industrial facilities, from the two power plants on River Road to the sprawling Pratt and Whitney jet engine manufacturing facility, each with very unique hazards. Other significant properties protected by South District firefighters include the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus, the several medical office complexes along Saybrook Road, the city’s River Road well and water treatment complex, the city’s middle school, two city elementary schools, Xavier High School, Middlesex Community College, and two large banquet facilities. Four of the 5 miles of Route 9 through Middletown and 7 of the 8 miles of the city’s Connecticut riverfront are within South Fire District.
South Fire must also contend with the fact that most of the southern and eastern portions of the district have no public water supply for firefighting. That area includes some of the most rugged wooded terrain in Middlesex County where large brush fires can and do occur and hikers become lost or injured and need to be rescued. Adding to the complexity of the district are many homes ranging in size from 6,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet, many not visible from any public roads and accessible only by long narrow driveways deep into the woods. In that part of South Fire District, all water for firefighting must be trucked in by firefighters.
South Fire District
445 Randolph Road
Middletown, CT 06457
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