AP NEWS

Committee seeks to cut Northwest Greenwich fire station funding

May 2, 2019

GREENWICH — Funding to start work on a new Northwest Greenwich fire station will face another obstacle at the Representative Town Meeting’s May 13 vote on next year’s budget.

On Wednesday night, the RTM Budget Overview Committee voted in favor of making a motion to remove the $100,000 that has been budgeted to evaluate potential sites for a proposed fire/emergency medical service station.

BOC Chair Lucia Jansen said it does not make sense to proceed with work on finding a site when it has not been determined if the station is necessary to improve fire coverage in town. She supports the $75,000 independent study of fire coverage and fire department response times that is also in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

“If the report says that we need this then we need it,” Jansen said. “Everyone will accept the report.”

Removing the $100,000 for the property search would likely delay the station for at least a year so there is expected to be pushback to the BOC motion. But Jansen said waiting for a study would avoid the “seat of the pants planning” that has taken place over the last 15 years.

“There has been enough doubt about the data and what we’re managing town wide that the BET voted unanimously for the fire analysis,” Jansen said.

The committee voted 8-2 with one abstention to endorse the motion. One of the opposing votes came from BOC District 10 member Lawrence Malkin, who represents Northwest Greenwich. He defended the station during Wednesday’s discussion, saying there is inadequate fire coverage in the region when compared to other parts of town.

“There are schools that have thousands of people,” Malkin said. “There are rehabilitation homes and nursing homes. There’s a giant mega church right on King Street. All of these facilities need fire protection. That’s the reason it’s a hot spot on the map. It’s not a rural area where there’s no people and just farmland. There’s a lot of people who need protection.”

The new station has been pushed by members of the Northwest Greenwich community and First Selectman Peter Tesei. The project has been blocked in prior years but after a fire in Northwest Greenwich last summer destroyed a home, the RTM voted to approve a non-binding resolution calling for funding for a station in next year’s budget.

The $100,000 in the proposed 2019-20 budget would be the first step in the process with construction coming in a later year.

The BOC has been an obstacle for a Northwest station in the past. In 2016, the committee made a successful motion to remove funding to purchase property at The Fairview Country Club after arguing there was not enough data to support building the station and calling for the study of fire coverage. Then in 2017, when a study was proposed in the budget, the BOC made a successful motion to have it removed.

Assistant Fire Chief Robert Kick noted this in his discussion with the BOC on Wednesday night, saying that the analysis could have been completed two years ago if the BOC hadn’t blocked it.

However, Jansen pushed back on that claim. She said she believed that the 2017 study would not truly have been independent because it was being overseen by the Greenwich Fire Department. She said she is in favor of the study in the 2019-20 budget because it would be done independently with the oversight of the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

Kick pushed strongly for the fire station on Wednesday, saying “no one can dispute” there is a travel time issue with getting proper response to locations in Northwest Greenwich. An eight minute response time there is more than double the standard of what is considered safe for emergency response, he said.

Several on the committee, as well as RTM member Michael Spilo, questioned whether the level of response the Fire Department is seeking throughout town could be achieved.

“You’d have to add three or four more stations to be able to do that,” Spilo said, insisting it is not clear there is enough call volume in Northwest Greenwich to justify the station.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com