The Norwich Fire District has 67 fire hydrants that it says costs $30,000 to $40,000 per year to repair, replace, and maintain. What should be the Town’s share, if any? This is Part I. Part II is here.
This year, the Town paid $11,700 for hydrant rental, in addition to water usage charges. That is approximately 27 to 36 percent of the cost noted above. The $11,700 is nearly double the amount of $6,000 paid in FY 2004, ending June 30, 2004. That 2004 amount is from the earliest Town Report available online at the Town’s website. I don't know when the payments started.
Neither Town nor Fire District officials have referenced any document or oral understanding about how these expenses are to be allocated, if at all. That seems like poor planning. The amount is not insignificant. In FY 2015, the hydrant rental cost was ranked at 33 of the top 50 payees. Town Report FY 2015 at I-98. I tried to get the Fire District’s side of the story but did not hear back.
My thinking is that the NFD needs to establish a clear benefit to the Town before hydrant rentals continue for two reasons.
First, the Fire Department only “needs” one hydrant to fill its truck with water to go on calls. That water usage is metered and the Town pays that bill. That the water is used by all the Town [and everywhere the Fire Department provides mutual assistance] is not enough to justify paying 27 to 36 percent of the cost of 67 hydrants. The Fire Department is not overusing the water reserves of the Fire District. Indeed, one concern of the Fire District in Town Reports is that people are using less water, hurting revenues.
Water used by the Fire Department is not exclusively from the Fire District. The Town has several dry hydrants located on private property tied to rivers and ponds. Property owners receive no compensation, to my knowledge.
Second, the Norwich Fire District built the hydrant infrastructure to serve its populace, not the entire Town. Fire protection to the Village is the historical raison d’être for the existence of the Norwich Fire District. The Selectboard justified taking over and paying the upkeep of the NFD sidewalks because residents from all over Town used the sidewalks. Can the same be said for the hydrant infrastructure? The fire hydrants of the NFD were built to serve the buildings in the Village. The side benefit to homes bordering the NFD does not seem adequate to justify paying 27 to 36 percent of the cost.
Part II Additional points worth noting is located here.
Before Fire District take up arms against me, I tried to get the Fire District’s side of the story but did not hear back. The document it submitted to the Selectboard outlines costs but not reasons the Town should pay. What struck me at the last Selectboard meeting was the lack of information by Selectboard members about the rationale for this line item in the budget. The Norwich Fire District needs to make a convincing case that the hydrant infrastructure directly benefits the Town in some way before the Town pays part of the cost.
LINKS AND NOTES
Previous posts on Norwich Fire District topics assumed it was a separate municipality. That may not be the case. Not all Fire Districts in Vermont are separate municipalities. “Fire districts, for example, were often created locally without special legislation and without notification to the state” states the Vermont Municipalities: Index to their Charters and Special Acts at page 1. No state charter for the Norwich Fire District is listed in that Index published by the Vermont Secretary of State and updated through 1997. See Index at page 81.
Vermont Municipalities: Index to their Charters and Special Acts https://www.sec.state.vt.us/media/46759/Index_to_Municipal_Charters.pdf
A history of Fire Districts in Vermont is discussed at the website of the Colchester Fire District. https://www.cfd1.org/what-is-fire-district