Dorset fire departments strike agreement on tax rates

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DORSET — The two fire districts and fire departments of Dorset have agreed to a fire services contract that would equalize their costs and funding mechanisms.

Last Wednesday, June 22, Dorset's Selectboard and representatives of the Dorset and East Dorset fire districts met and approved the contract through which they will provide fire protection services to both communities. Voters will be asked to approve the new structure during a special town meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, which also happens to be Vermont's state primary election. An informational meeting will be held the day before, on Aug. 8, to explain the contract in detail, said Rob Gaiotti, Dorset's town manager.

Essentially, the town will be buying the fire services instead of the fire districts budgeting and taxing for their services independently, he said.

"The town is saying 'we want to purchase those services to cover everybody in Dorset,'" he said. The next step is for both fire districts, which have operated independently since 1943, to come up with their budgets and tell the town and its residents how much that will cost, he added.

Then, assuming voters approve of the contract on Aug. 9, the town will write a check to pay for those fire services, he said.

The deal will equalize the fire district's tax rates, which have emerged as a controversial element in recent years since East Dorset's fire tax rate is higher than Dorset's, reflecting the differences in each community's Grand List and property values.

The differential in the fire tax rates was one of the items noted in a Public Safety Study released last year which highlighted differences between the two departments. It followed an earlier report in 2010 by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns which recommended finding funding alternatives for the two fire departments.

Additionally, the two fire districts have adopted a similar budget template which will make it easier to make direct comparisons and should allow residents to better understand their expenses, Gaiotti said.

Each fire district will continue to set their budgets independently, said Ben Weiss, a member of the Dorset Fire Department's governing Prudential committee.

Coincidentally, the Dorset Fire District stands to save between $7-10,000 through a consolidation of bookkeeping tasks between the fire district and the town. The bookkeeping position in the fire district had recently opened up, and that function can be handled by the town staff, Gaiotti said.

The three boards involved deserved much credit for pulling the package and the contract together, he said.

"The three boards involved in these processes deserve to be applauded as they have been able to work together to address the needs of the fire districts and the larger community," he said in an email. "Both agreements are for a 1-year term which will allow for the group to assess them going forward."


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