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Troubled Poquonnock Bridge Fire District to vote on hiring lawyer

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published August 25. 2013 4:00AM

Groton - The Poquonnock Bridge board of directors will decide Tuesday whether to retain the Providence law firm representing the Central Coventry Fire District in receivership in Rhode Island.

Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board President Alan Ackley said a special directors meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Groton Senior Center to decide whether to pay $10,000 to retain Chace, Ruttenberg & Freedman of Providence.

"Instead of running out of money and then looking for a lawyer, we thought it was best to deal with that before that situation occurs," he said. The firm is expected to advise the board on a potential request for bankruptcy, which in Connecticut would require approval of the governor.

A petition was also being circulated in the fire district in support of the board cutting costs. One copy at Ackley's Package Store had 47 signatures on Saturday, though it was not immediately clear where the petition started or how many copies were being distributed. The petition asks the fire district board to use "any and all means of providing for a more efficient and less costly fire district."

The fire district board is expected to vote Tuesday to dismantle the box alarm system in town and to hear from Fire Chief Todd Paige about the process for closing one of the district's two fire stations. Box alarms are located on streets and at businesses to provide a direct link to dispatch.

Also on Tuesday night, the Groton Town Council has scheduled a potential executive session to hear from town attorney Eric Callahan about a document related to "the current and future status of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District," and to get his legal advice. The council meets as a Committee of the Whole at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Town Hall Annex.

The council has also asked to meet with the fire district boards and chiefs that cover different parts of town. Councilors want to hold this meeting before they distribute pilot money to the districts to protect town-owned property.

Poquonnock Bridge board member Peter Legnos said he doesn't know why the councilors want to meet with the district boards, but he believes it's appropriate that they get legal advice.

"I think they need to find out what's going on and what their liabilities are," he said. Poquonnock Bridge has a potential liability of about $11 million in unfunded pensions and a union contract it can't cover with its current budget, he said.

"The sooner, I believe, that we can get both sides to the middle to negotiate, the quicker this will be taken care of and be better for everybody," Legnos said.

In the meantime, he said, "There are options for bankruptcy and receivership and they really need to be vetted by the attorneys."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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