Resident demands transparency from Onset Fire District leadership

Nov 10, 2017

To the Editor:

I, and many others, learned a great deal at the spring annual meeting of the Onset Fire District. We learned that we pay 99 percent of the health insurance for employees, and that we pay the Town of Wareham a percentage of the tax base to send out bills. This amount increases as the taxes increase, regardless of the number of bills processed.

Since then, I have learned that the Prudential Committee has not investigated any cost savings from bringing the billing in-house or bidding it out to an outside contractor.  I learned that they ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters’ union without knowing the actual cost of negotiated increases in wages, longevity and stipends. I learned that they have paid Plymouth County to help them hire contractors for the new firehouse. I also learned that the town administrator gave them a one sentence memorandum saying that the town is not going to discuss the Hammond School properties for a new firehouse.

In attending meetings of the building committee and the Prudential Committee it was made abundantly clear that there is no intention to increase transparency in the Fire District Prudential Committee, and any suggestion that this is necessary was met with anger and name-calling.  The chairman called me “a disease.”  A citizen who volunteered to be on the building committee last week was told no, even though that committee is hiring a management company and “starting over” with architects and plans.

The only way to make a change is at the ballot box. We deserve informed members who understand that they are the representatives of the taxpayers and that they have an obligation to act responsibly on our behalf. These members are compensated, and we increased their compensation at the annual meeting. Their term expirations are not easily publicly available, however.

There will be a vote on Nov. 21 to approve the contract spending reached with Local 2810. There will be a salary increase of 2 percent retroactive to July 2017, a 2.5 percent increase to the salary schedule in 2018 and a 3 percent increase on top of that in 2019. There was an increase to the longevity payments, a sick leave bank created, and an increase to stipends for professional certifications. The committee admittedly did not cost this out, nor did they discuss increased costs in 2018 for health insurance premiums. The Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security was zero in 2016,  0.2 percent  in 2017, and will be 2.0 percent for 2018. This is not a mention for or against these increases, only a plea that we be given a full accounting of what we are voting on.

This is in no way a complaint about the services provided in our approximately 4-square-mile fire district. The Town of Wareham has had no responsibility for fire protection since 2000, and the two fire departments do an outstanding job.  The governing body in Onset is separate and apart from the firefighters, except that member Pamela Pike is a call firefighter. I am urging full transparency with meetings televised and minutes posted online, and much more participation from the taxpayers. We will soon have a multi-million dollar facility that will no longer be in Onset Village, and there are decisions of great consequences to be made.

Lisa Morales, Onset