Onset Fire District meeting to vote on $3.7 million budget

Activist seeks several bylaw changes
By Matthew Bernat | May 16, 2018

The Onset Fire District annual meeting is set for Monday, May 21, with mostly standard budgetary and “housekeeping” items on the agenda. However, there are several bylaw changes proposed by an activist who has clashed with district officials repeatedly this past year.

The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Dudley L. Brown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, located at 4 Gibbs Ball Park Road. All registered voters living in the Onset Fire District may participate.

The district, which provides water and fire service, is governed independently from the town. The Wareham Fire District, a separate entity, provides those same services for Wareham residents and is self-governed, too.

In total, 38 agenda items will be before voters, including the district’s $3.7 million budget, which funds the Onset Water and Fire Departments.

The budget is up $86,350 from last year, a 2.5 percent increase. Prudential Committee Chair Pamela Pike said the increases are related to contractual salary increases and healthcare costs.

Unlike last year, which featured a multi-million dollar request for a new fire station, Pike said the items at this year’s meeting are mostly “standard housekeeping.”

There is a request to transfer $255,000 from the district’s “free cash” account to replace 900 district water meters. Free cash refers to unspent, otherwise unrestricted funds. Pike said water commissioners and Prudential Committee members decided the upgrade was needed.

New meters will be more efficient and “in line with today’s technology,” said Pike. Because the money is coming from money the district has on hand, ratepayers will not see their bills rise, she said.

Officials are also seeking a $75,000 transfer from free cash to purchase a new backup generator. Pike said this winter the current generator failed during a storm, but was quickly brought back online through the efforts of district employees. The incident highlighted the need for a new one, she said.

“We came to the realization that we need a new generator so we can provide water when the power goes out,” said Pike. “It would be a crisis if that generator wasn’t functioning in the middle of a hurricane or storm.”

Most importantly, water service will be maintained for firefighting operations during an emergency, she said.

Also on the agenda are seven items submitted by activist Lisa Morales, who writes the blog Onset All Together. They are all related to tweaking the district’s bylaws. Over the past year, Morales has called for accountability from district officials on a range of issues, including releasing health benefits information.

In February, officials issued a “no trespass order” against Morales that barred her from the dtistrict’s main office, except for public meetings. Morales was accused of “aggressive verbal and physical conduct” and making “threats against members of the District’s administrative staff,” according to the order. Morales says the accusations are false.

The changes she proposes include ensuring that elected officials live in the district before seeking election. Should an official move out of the district they would have to resign immediately. That bylaw came about after Morales discovered Board of Water Commissioners Chair Ben Hughes had listed several address changes in and out of the district over the past three years.

She’s also calling for a change in health benefits for new employees. Currently, employees pay 10 percent of their healthcare bill with the district paying the rest. Elected officials have the same option. The bylaw, if approved, would require new, non-union employees to pay no less than 20 percent of their healthcare costs starting July 1. It would force elected officials to pay their entire healthcare bill after May 21.

Another bylaw would require officials to post meeting agendas at Wareham Town Hall and post the minutes of meetings for at least 30 days after approval.

That change would lead to more “transparency,” said Morales.

“It’s still like pulling teeth to get information, and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Morales.

The petition articles required the signature of 10 registered voters to be placed on the agenda. Pike said her board did not discuss the items submitted by Morales.

Comments (14)
Posted by: cranky pants | May 16, 2018 11:54

Here we go again...

Posted by: Spherebreaker | May 17, 2018 07:35

Onset would be better off shutting down the fire department and putting 1/2 that budget money into a fund. If a house burns just rebuild it with money from the fund.

Posted by: Steve Holmes | May 17, 2018 08:38

Over my time in Onset i have worked very closely with the fine men and women in the OFD. I have personally seen how they have been very creative with "bandaids" to fix things and keep them running. Things they need to save lives when emergencies happen. I can remember having Friday night dances at Baypointe to come up with the money to get the new Jaws of Life. These folks dont dig into your pockets at will. Please show up and support the OFD. A note on the water, Onset has had great water since we have been there, right out of the tap, unlike other Districts around us, they do a great job, and have been fairly responsible with our money. Typically Bodies will spend every dime they can find then put an item on the warrant that raises rates. They have put the money aside for the new meters, which we need, so that they can now get them without raising our rates. I dont agree with everything, and I still do believe we could combine services, but it is what it is, and these folks have earned our support.

Posted by: Steve Holmes | May 17, 2018 08:42

PS Sphere i have never heard that angle on saving money. On the surface for about 3 seconds i actually was giving it some thought. Just having my morning coffee, but my God man, what about the people, their lives, and all their belongings in the house. I am pretty sure I am a no vote on that one.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 17, 2018 12:13
Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 17, 2018 12:14
Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 17, 2018 12:17

The only place you can see video of meetings https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYwiMiV1utkyng6VRxlr5kw

Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 17, 2018 12:20

Taxpayers, if you want WCTV to carry the Annual District Meeting so you can see it, you must call the District office ASAP and tell Chairman Pike you want her to okay it! Steve Ruiz at WCTV cannot do it without invitation, and has not been invited. Call 508-295-6090.

Posted by: beingnice | May 18, 2018 06:30

That's an odd statement Onset.  It's an open meeting, anyone is allowed with or without an invitation and to the best of my knowledge anyone can tape a meeting by letting the governing body know it is being taped.  You might just as well say that the local newspapers cannot attend without an invitation, it just doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Steve Holmes | May 18, 2018 08:40

Beingnice, that is correct and covered in the Open Meeting Law. We have our BOS meetings in the same room every Tuesday. As a matter of courtesy if we were moving the location we would always notify WCTV. Because there is extra work and set up for them to do remote broadcasting. WCTV does not need an invitation to cover a meeting. So you are correct the notification is reverse, WCTV could check with the Board and notify them they will be broadcasting either live or for tape. To my knowledge no government Board in Wareham has ever refused. I sense the potential of a little misdirection of information here. This is a public meeting and ANYONE can come. Only restriction is you have to be a registered voter within the District to be able to vote. And you are supposed to sit in a special section if you are not registered or live outside the district, if there is any type of photographic media, pictures, video etc, you must notify the Chair of the meeting before it starts. Regular reporters without cameras are not required to notify.

Posted by: bruce gannon | May 18, 2018 10:32

While I can't speak for Steve at WCTV, as a former volunteer, I can offer a little insider insight. While it may be true that WCTV can tape or air live any meeting in town, they don't have the staffing, or volunteers to do so. The result is they air/ tape those that they are asked to do. Maybe if some of those concerned with the transparency of local town meetings joined WCTV as members and learned how to tape thee meeting you could have greater coverage. But like most things it's easier to complain and assume than get involved and do something.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 18, 2018 11:05

Bruce, Steve and Nice, this is a good segue into the entire situation with OFWD. None of you are incorrect, but what seems logical out in the world turns on its head at OFWD. There will be longer posts on this site, the Facebook page and on the blog leading into the meeting, but I'll address the WCTV part here. You may remember that in November we circulated an online petition entitled Televise Onset Fire District Prudential Committee Meetings on Wareham CTV. Fifty-eight people signed it, and it was presented to the Prudential Committee. Steve Ruiz came to a PruComm meeting to discuss it. Citizens, such as Winna Dean, spoke against it. The reason I wanted this, beyond the obvious, is that the minutes approved did not reflect what actually went on in the meetings. They are sanitized. When I requested the audiotape Goodell had of one meeting, it was "accidentally" erased by her. Thus, I started bringing my own camera.

Following that, Steve explained that he would not video and/or broadcast a board's meeting over their objections. Although it appeared on a number of agendas and was discussed, there was never a vote called. Thus, I did begin taping, albeit amateurishly, and posting on our YouTube channel. I also put out a call for a citizen or more to be trained at WCTV. No one came forward.

Bruce, I attend as many meetings as I possibly can, do everything I can to get video, agendas, and minutes online. I have a family too, and a life. I do not feel that it should be me who takes on every aspect of this that requires time and money.  The District meetings are not held at a place already set up for taping, like the high school and MUC are.

On May 10, I sent an email to Steve Ruiz:

Hi Steve,
Will the district meeting be filmed and/or televised?


He answered: Have not been requested by the Onset fire district people yet.

THUS, I appealed to the taxpayers-those who have second homes here and cannot vote and those perhaps still in the sunny south, those with family and work obligations or shut-ins-to call Chairman Pike and have her ask Mr. Ruiz to tape and broadcast the meeting. This is not how it should be, but it is how it is. Someone with better skills and equipment that I, such as Mr. Gannon, could accomplish the same if WCTV is not invited.


Posted by: beingnice | May 18, 2018 12:33

Just an observation Onset, seems like whenever you are challenged on the facts you deflect off to everyone else.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | May 18, 2018 13:15

Which fact would you like me address? I'm happy to do so, if I am able. Confused.


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