Proposed Northwest Firehouse Falls in RTM Budget Vote

The RTM takes oath earlier this year (John Ferris Robben Photo)

The RTM takes oath earlier this year (John Ferris Robben Photo)

It wasn’t until half past midnight on Monday night that members of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting approved the town’s 2016-17 budget—and not before cutting a plan for a new firehouse and Greenwich Emergency Medical Services station in the northwest section of town.

The motion to cut the firehouse and GEMS station carried by a vote of 119-69-4, and an additional motion to cut the land acquisition for the station on King Street carried by 121-60-3, reductions totaling $2.5 million.

In the end, the town’s $431.3 million budget was approved by a 168-10-2 vote.

In addition to the firehouse and GEMS station cuts, the Budget Overview Committee proposed trimming $1.4 million across multiple town departments. The vote on those cuts, which took place earlier in the meeting, just barely carried, 98-94, with five abstentions.

Following that vote, several motions to put the money back into the budget were made on behalf of various departments. The lengthy process resulted in funds being restored from the original BOC cuts to the Board of Education ($699,000) and Nathaniel Witherell ($154,000).

Advocates for a firehouse in the northwest section of Greenwich included First Selectman Peter Tesei and Fire Chief Peter Siecienski.

“Life safety—the protection of all town residents and resources—always has been a central focus of my administration,” said Tesei, adding that the need for expanding the town’s firefighting capabilities has been well documented.

Fire Chief Peter Siecienski also spoke in favor of the firehouse, saying of the RTM process after the vote, “They were a little disjointed tonight. Everyone understood the goal, but the mechanism left a lot to be desired. I think the tone was set early tonight. This was like the tea-party movement nationally. It was seized upon locally here tonight and that’s what carried the votes. You have to respect the process.”

BOC Chairman Lucia Jansen argued that an up-to-date, town-wide fire plan does not exist. She said, “Despite repeated requests, the often-cited Buracker report was written in 1989 and clearly is simple bullet points of broad recommendations that are out of date.”

She also cited a lack of response time data as a core reason why the BOC voted 11-1 in favor of the cut.

“We had request after request as a committee for specific information on the type of calls, response time, mutual aid, stations, damage to property, all that kind of data that we would get in a written report, we did not get.”

Confusion about how the station would be staffed also came up in Jansen’s speech to the RTM members. She said that “many verbal things did not reflect what was in writing.”

Brunswick School, located in the backcountry, expressed its belief in the need for the fire station in a letter from Headmaster Tom Phillip to First Selectman Tesei that was presented to the body. Glenn Harvison, pastor of Harvest Time Church at 1338 King Street, also spoke in favor of the firehouse, which would bring faster response times to northwest Greenwich.

Fire Chief Siecienski said that the next steps involve regrouping with the BET now that the funds for purchasing the land have been cut.

A BOC proposal to cut $200,000 to rehabilitate the Byram Fire Station did not pass; the vote of 51-126-3 kept it in the budget.

“Tomorrow’s another day, the sun comes up, and we have the minister behind us,” said Siecienski. “We’re looking forward to moving forward.”

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