Groton - Taxpayers in the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District have assembled a slate of candidates to try to oust six members of the current board of directors.
The challenge comes less than a week before the annual town meeting to elect officers and vote on a proposed budget. The board of directors approved a budget on April 25 that calls for spending 40 percent more than the current year and would require a comparable tax-rate increase.
Earlier this week, nearly 40 residents and firefighters jammed a meeting of the fire district board. They said the district is in chaos, the department needs a ladder truck and they oppose turning the Fort Hill station into a volunteer department. Some added that the current board members should go.
"If they want to step up to the plate and try to do the job, they can go ahead," said Ron Yuhas, a director on the board.
The Poquonnock Bridge Fire District's board oversees funding and some operations of the two stations that provide fire protection to taxpayers.
The proposed slate, to be distributed starting this weekend, includes three members of the current board: Chris Clark, a professional firefighter in Waterford; Kevin Czapla, a business owner and lieutenant in the Old Mystic Fire Department; and Tom Wimler, who works in emergency services in Durham.
The slate seeks to oust the following members: Yuhas, Thomas Santacroce, Nancy Beckwith, Alan Ackley, Randy Ackley and Peter Legnos.
The slate would replace them with Deb Monteiro, a former town councilor; Richard Monteiro, her husband; Dr. Gary Bertman, owner of G P Family Care LLC in New London; Kenneth Richards III, a member of Mystic River Ambulance, Old Mystic Fire Department and son of the Old Mystic fire chief; Adam Petrillo, who has served as a volunteer in the fire service; and Mike Stammel, who has held volunteer and career positions in fire and emergency medical services.
The residents proposing the slate, a loosely organized core group of about a dozen people, will continue distributing the list until the district's annual meeting at 7 p.m. May 16 in the Groton Senior Center.
Monteiro said the board has made poor budget decisions.
"They've painted themselves into a corner because for years they ignored things that they should have been doing," she said. "They've now placed the district in a budget crisis."
The Poquonnock Bridge Professional Firefighter's Association Local 2704 also released a statement Thursday saying budget figures were inflated. " … We feel the current proposed budget has been inflated to an unreasonable amount," the union said. "This union is not against sitting down with a rational district board ... "
Yuhas said he doesn't know if taxpayers will approve the budget. If not, it goes back to the board.
"It's always the same," Yuhas said. " 'We want more service but we don't want to spend as much money.' And you know, I'd love to have 50 firefighters. But there's no way to pay 50 firefighters."
Meanwhile, a volunteer fire department owns the Fort Hill Station in Poquonnock Bridge, and a majority of its executive board opposes re-establishing a volunteer force there.
The 99-year lease between the district and the volunteer department was enacted decades ago, said John Parfitt Jr., vice president of the executive board of Poquonnock Bridge Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 Inc.
Parfitt said he believes that a proposal to turn it back into a volunteer force would undermine public safety. He said a majority on his board also opposes the plan.
"I just don't feel there (are) enough people to be volunteer(s) who could work out of the station like they're proposing," Parfitt said. "For one thing, most of us work. I work for Electric Boat in the New London facility." He said getting to a fire during the day would take time and increase response times to fires.
"If a fire breaks out, in four minutes it starts to become dangerous," he said. "It eats up oxygen, (and) at eight minutes, if there's somebody still in there and nobody shows up, anyone inside is dead."
Parfitt said the Fort Hill Station had active volunteers through its own department until about three years ago. At that time, he said, a volunteer responded to a fire and was told volunteers were not being used and he should not go to any more.
Parfitt said no one on the fire district board contacted the department about its proposal for Fort Hill. He said it wants a long-term plan.
"It seems like they're just going to pluck people off the street and say, 'Here, you're going to be a volunteer,' when we already have procedures in place," he said.