Voters slash Onset fire station proposal by $6 million

Rowdy residents question spending at packed meeting
By Matthew Bernat | May 16, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Onset Fire Chief Ray Goodwin answers a voter question during Monday's lively Onset Fire District annual meeting.

It was anything but business as usual at Monday’s Onset Fire District Annual Meeting.

A record-setting number of voters attended the normally staid meeting ready to debate – loudly at times – salary increases, health insurance costs and Wareham’s $37,500 cut for collecting district taxes.

Officials said 165 people arrived for the meeting, held in the Dudley L. Brown Veterans of Foreign Wars, which was filled to near capacity. Last year, 44 people attended.

In the end, the only fiscal casualty was the $13.9 million proposal for a new fire station. Voters approved the station, but capped the cost at $8 million.

While most voters recognized the need for a new station, they had reservations about the cost and moving it to Sand Pond Road and out of the village.

“We need a new fire station,” said Carol Mazzarelli. “We don’t need a palace.”

However, the decision to cap the cost came close to being reversed at the end of the night after most voters had left. Resident Earl Fowler introduced a motion that would have reconsidered that vote intending to approve the $13.9 million station.

Moderator Robert Broussard shot down the motion after learning Fowler voted against the cap, which made the action ineligible under meeting rules. An unidentified woman who did vote for the cap then motioned to reconsider the vote.

Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Osswald was not in favor, saying it went against the will of the voters. The handful of remaining residents defeated it soundly with a voice vote.

Original plans called for a 21,500-square-foot station across the street from the Onset Water Department. Fire officials hoped to build a two-story building with space to house the department’s nine vehicles under one roof. New bunks, space for training exercises, a fitness area, space for equipment storage and a community room able to accommodate 100 people were also included.

Officials said it’s unclear at this time how the reduced price would affect those plans.

“We’ve got to work under the constraints we’ve been given,” said Fire Chief Ray Goodwin. “We’ll make do with what we’ve got.”

Goodwin said he was heartened to see so many people turn out for the meeting.

“This is how participatory government works,” he said, adding he would have liked to see more residents take part in the planning phase to air concerns.

Before that vote, residents expressed displeasure with several items on the agenda, seeking to cut costs.

Of particular concern was the amount of money the district contributes for firefighter healthcare. The district pays 90 percent of that tab while firefighters pick up the remaining 10 percent.

Voters questioned that breakdown, asking if it could be changed. Former district Clerk-Treasurer Lenny Gay, who initially refused to identify himself before shouting voters forced him to reveal his name, said a 1973 district vote on the matter could not be undone.

The district’s attorney contradicted Gay, saying those percentages could be changed through collective bargaining with the firefighter’s union.

Voters also sought to save money when it came to the $37,500 Onset owed Wareham for processing district tax bills. That amount is 1.5 percent of the total tax bill. Residents asked why a lower amount couldn’t be negotiated with the town.

Prudential Committee Chair Charles Klueber said that the subject has been broached in the past, but he believed Onset wouldn’t get a better deal. In fact, he said, there was a chance Wareham may ask for a higher percentage or refuse to process the tax bills. That would add considerable cost for Onset, he said.

“The town said they want to go to five percent,” said Klueber. “I don’t know if we want to poke the bear.”

Hefty raises for Goodwin (15 percent) and Clerk-Treasurer Mary McCoy (7.3 percent) were debated, too. Voters approved their salaries at $94,010 and $72,000, respectively.

Prudential Committee members said McCoy’s raise brought her in line with clerk-treasurers in surrounding towns. With the amount of work she does for the district McCoy is a bargain, they said.

“We have a jewel in Mary and a lot of other districts would love to have her,” said Klueber.

Regarding Goodwin, Klueber said when he became chief four years ago the committee promised to raise his salary to make it competitive with similar towns when it could afford to. Klueber noted the committee was honoring that promise.

In total, 30 agenda items were approved with one withdrawn for further study. That article dealt with personnel guidelines.

Despite the contentious meeting, officials welcomed the large turnout.

“I’m seeing faces here I’ve never seen before,” said Water Commissioner Frank Kowzic.

Officials said 165 people arrived for Monday's meeting, which began 30 minutes late to accommodate all the voters. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Prudential Committee Chair Charles Klueber addresses the crowd. (Photo by: Matthew Bernat)
Comments (16)
Posted by: Andrea Smith | May 16, 2017 05:41

Congratulations to the 165 Onset voters who attended last night's district meeting! One cost cut that can now be made in station design plans - the meeting room designed to seat 100 residents for annual district meetings.

Posted by: Spherebreaker | May 16, 2017 06:12

The fact that any money was approved for the station is a loss for Onset and Wareham. It would have been much better to see 1 16 million dollar public safety building in Town.

Posted by: cranky pants | May 16, 2017 07:33

I think many of the voters agreed that we needed a new station... Just not a 14 million dollar palace in the woods.

I still wish the lemmings at the meeting had tabled the proposal until further studies were done, perhaps hear from the lawyer of why the school couldn't be used and maybe get a few bids.

Another gut wrenched moment was when the former moderator mentioned that in some antique clause that it was written up so the taxpayers couldn't vote to change the healthcare percentage taxpayers are responsible for. That was a slick and sneaky move that was passed years ago, and further threw red flags as to what hidden nuances were in the articles brought before voters at this meeting.

Posted by: wtbarber | May 16, 2017 07:55

I hope 8 million can keep the firehouse down town.  I would really like to see them buy two buildings (old firehouse cafe and inconvenience nip / scratch ticket store) level them, and build the new firehouse in the existing location.

Posted by: | May 16, 2017 09:14

Thankfully people showed up and voted this down to a reasonable level. I cant believe the amount of spending in this town recently. It seems the powers to be can push anything through these small meetings. Shouldn't we get rid of this district crap and put it all under one answerable body? Any spending like this should be town meeting material.

Posted by: Swifts_Sheriff | May 16, 2017 18:43

In the top picture , who's the dude in the gray suit and red tie? He looks like he just swallowed a Canary or he just let a silent but deadly one rip .  Classic

Posted by: Chaka | May 16, 2017 20:59

Swifts, that's Todd. The fancy boy who just had his fancy plans handed back to him. He left in disgust when he realized we didn't fall for his schpiel. Good luck in Wellesley Todd!

Posted by: Chaka | May 16, 2017 21:11

On a more serious note...the towns overspending has gotten so out of hand, that the citizens have finally been forced to step up, show up, and stop this madness. There's a lot I don't know, but I can research, discuss, learn,vote and show up. And I saw a lot of smart people last night who do know stuff. And many who have great ideas. Together we can get stuff done. There's a whole new push for transparency and results in town politics. I predict town wide trash pickup in 5 years.

And lets keep the Tobey Homestead! If the selectman or town administrator had any balls, they would deny the demolition permit. They work for us, not Southcoast Health. We can vote them out if they cave.

P.S. Ladies, how hot was that guy in back?!

Posted by: cranky pants | May 16, 2017 21:45

At one point I was hoping they would just open up the bar and we could all sit down and hash any indifferences. As it was we were there during nightclub hours so why not turn it into a full scale event. I'd really love to find out how many people voted on that sinister health care vote back in the dinosaur days. Granted healthcare was pant loads cheaper back then, it took a special group to voluntarily give up being able to have another say... For life.


Posted by: Linda | May 17, 2017 14:26

Spherebreaker &  In our lifetime, there will not be a "single water & fire dept.".  Wareham has it's water wells, as does Onset.  Wareham has it's "District" fire dept. and Onset has the same.  They each take care of water lines, installations & treatment of our water, making it safe to drink.  Just the historic factor of each agency will make the firemen & women, dig their heels in the ground and they won't budge!  Many are carrying on a family tradition, so to speak.      I do give the Onset residents a high five for coming out in such a large number. 

Posted by: Swifts_Sheriff | May 17, 2017 20:45

Thanks Chaka , yeah that dude looked too much of a Yuppie Whiner  to be from Wareham. Lexington , Needham 100% ... Cry Baby

Linda, tradition ok we can play that game ..why don't we go back to unpaid volunteers? That was the tradition

Posted by: Newlyaresident | May 18, 2017 18:37

Earl Fowler and people like him shouldn't be allowed to participate in these meetings. The vote was taken and the matter should have been closed. I can't believe the Chair would even listen to a motion to re-open the conversation!

Posted by: Newlyaresident | May 18, 2017 18:41

Chaka, I remember not that many years ago that the Toby Homestead was a complete dump and should have already been razed. The do-gooders and tree-huggers saved it. What a waste. Get rid of it and let the hospital expand.

Posted by: Chaka | May 19, 2017 01:56

You say do gooders and tree huggers like it's a bad thing. If you don't like nature, what are you doing in a rural community like wareham?

Posted by: Chaka | May 19, 2017 01:58

Also, I don't care to see the Tobey Homestead razed somthe hospital can  expand to accommodate the junkies, pill seekers and uninsured. I choose history and beauty over losers.

Posted by: Linda | May 19, 2017 12:00

SWIFTS _SHERIFF - I do remember the volunteer fire dept., which included family members, but they did get paid when they fought a fire, but not for repairs or maintenance. 

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