Editor’s note: An incomplete version of this story already appeared online and in Wednesday’s print edition as the result of a technical problem. This is the full version of the story.
By Dale P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The Bradford Fire District will negotiate a contract for fire services with the Dunn’s Corners Fire District after Bradford voters overwhelmingly approved the action during the Bradford Fire District’s annual meeting Tuesday.
The voice vote, with just a few opponents, came after those in attendance learned that the three members of the Bradford Fire District’s Board of Engineers had resigned. A letter signed by three members of the Bradford Volunteer Fire Company also stated that none of the department’s volunteer firefighters would volunteer under a contract or merger with Dunn’s Corners, but one resident said the department’s firefighters had not been polled.
The more than 100 people attending the meeting at Bradford Elementary School also approved an interim agreement under which Dunn’s Corners Fire District will provide fire protection services from Sept. 10 through May 31 for $40,698 under the Dunn’s Corners Fire District tax rate of 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current tax rate in the Bradford district is 72 cents per $1,000.
Because many expenses are not known, Bradford Fire District officials did not present a proposed budget for the district’s new financial year, which began Sept. 1. But a memorandum from the Dunn’s Corners Fire District includes a provision stating that the payment schedule for the interim agreement will “take into account Bradford Fire District’s cash flow.” Virginia Abruzzese, Bradford Fire District treasurer, said the district has just $18,000 left for operating expenses. Under normal circumstances fire district tax bills would be mailed out shortly after approval of an annual budget.
Jon Lallo and William Nardone, lawyers representing Bradford Fire District, said they anticipated having a proposed contract to present to Bradford voters in time for a Nov. 14 special meeting. District voters could approve a proposed budget during the Nov. 14 meeting, officials said. Voters also will be asked to consider changes to the district’s bylaws during the special meeting and will decide whether a new Board of Engineers is needed.
The former Board of Engineers, Bradford Fire Department Chief Jay Sullivan, Assistant Chief William Briggs Jr., and Deputy Chief Harold Ellis Sr., all submitted letters of resignation Monday and Tuesday. The letters were read Tuesday by Mark Berardo, Bradford Fire District clerk. A separate letter from the Bradford Volunteer Fire Company said the department’s firefighters considered the move to contract with Dunn’s Corners as a “slap in the face.”
“We asked for a facility free of mold and with a working bathroom and this is what we get,” the letter said, referring to the run down condition of the department’s station house at 35 Main Street.
Raymond Laspee, a volunteer with the department, questioned the veracity of the letter from the fire company, saying not all of the department’s volunteers had been contacted. Laspee said he intended to continue volunteering as a fire fighter.
A joint letter from the three former members of the Board of Engineers accused District Moderator Frank Manfredi of “spearheading” a drive to dissolve the local department and said Manfredi and others conducted improper meetings without proper notice, hired and paid a lawyer without the approval of district voters, and paid for a consultant’s study without the approval of voters.
Manfredi repeated his opinion that Bradford Fire District could not afford to build a new fire station and said the district’s best hope, balancing costs and safety, is to contract with Dunn’s Corners. If the district were to build a new firehouse, Manfredi estimated the annual cost to a homeowner of a house valued at $250,000 would be $1,300 in annual fire district taxes.
“I believe the best solution for Bradford, to maintain a stable and low tax rate, is to contract with Dunn’s Corners,” Manfredi said.
The needs assessment was approved, Manfredi said, by voters at the 2012 annual meeting. Manfredi said he reached out to Dunn’s Corners to explore a possible contract after North Main Street Holdings LLC, which owns the property on which the Bradford Fire Station sits, sued the district seeking to evict it from the property.
District voters also voted, with little opposition, to approve a consent agreement to resolve the lawsuit. If the district vacates the fire station property by Sept. 30, under terms of the agreement, North Main Street Holdings agreed to drop its pursuit of legal fees and compensatory damages, Lallo said.
Thomas Algiere Jr., a Bradford resident and a member of the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department Board of Engineers, urged Bradford firefighters to join the Dunn’s Corners department and said his department was committed, “To treating the firefighters of the Bradford Fire District with the utmost respect that they deserve. Those folks for years have been our comrades, people we relied on, people we responded with,” Algiere said.
If Bradford approves a contract with Dunn’s Corners, Algiere cautioned that response times to fires and other emergencies will be longer than if Bradford retained its own fire protection presence in the village. He estimated a first responder from his department could be at a Bradford emergency scene in 8 minutes, 31 seconds, but said it would take longer to get fire trucks from Dunn’s Corners to Bradford.
Algiere also said that Dunn’s Corners fire officials are hopeful Bradford will be able to establish a satellite facility in Bradford. He also confirmed that under a contract, the Dunn’s Corners fire chief will manage day-to-day operations of fire protection services in Bradford and that Bradford voters would not be granted voting privileges.
Bradford resident William Aiello echoed the letter from the Bradford Board of Engineers, saying Manfredi and other district officials conducted illegal meetings and approved spending for a consultant’s report without the authorization of district voters. Aiello also said Bradford residents would experience an increase in the cost of homeowners insurance as a result of fire services moving out of the district.
Bradford resident Robert Broccolo said the move to contract with Dunn’s Corners was a necessary but difficult change.
“We’re not here because we don’t like the fire department. It’s the money, we don’t have it,” Broccolo said.