Taxpayers group protests fire spending on boat, calls for audit

The Fire Department put its fire boat on public display in front of Town Hall last April, saying that the surplus vessel is being rebuilt with mostly volunteer labor and that it will fill a critical need in Westport.

The Fire Department put its fire boat on public display in front of Town Hall last April, saying that the surplus vessel is being rebuilt with mostly volunteer labor and that it will fill a critical need in Westport.

To the editor:

To Richard Spirlet, chairman, Westport Board of Selectmen:

In late March 2012, the Westport Taxpayers Association sent a letter to Fire Chief Brian Legendre asking for information pertaining to the fire boat, “Marine 1,” which the Fire Department acquired in 2008 and is still equipping. A response letter dated April 4, 2012 from Chief Legendre to the WTA, states, “The department’s operating budget CANNOT and DOES NOT support funding a project like this as it can barely support our fleet of apparatus.”

On June 19, 2012 the Finance Committee voted to approve a transfer of $20,000 from the Fire Department FY2012 Overtime Budget to the Fire Department FY2012 Vehicle Repair Budget.  The reason stated for this transfer was “repair and service apparatus.” The Finance Committee acted quickly, only taking 45 seconds with no questions or discussion to unanimously approve this transfer.

The WTA has obtained three invoices; two dated June 24, 2012, billed to the Westport Fire Department for parts, and one invoice dated June 27, 2012, for labor for “Marine 1.” The three invoices total $7,433.66 and were paid out of the FY2012 vehicle repair budget. It seems abundantly clear, given the $20,000 transfer, its timing as the fiscal year was about to expire, and the subsequent invoice payments for labor and parts on “Marine 1” just before fiscal year-end, that Chief Legendre’s response of April 4 was not only deceptive, but was indeed simply untrue.

The WTA questions whether “Marine 1” is fully functional and useable at this time. Our research shows that, contrary to his April 4, letter claim, the Fire Chief has spent $35,320.71 from various budget accounts since 2008 on this fire boat; over $13,000 of these funds has come from the department’s operating budget. The town has three harbor master vessels and the shellfish warden has another. What can “Marine 1” do that has not been handled with the currently owned vessels?

This money could have been put to better use. On March 24, 2012, the ambulance was unstaffed for a 24-hour period. The Fire Department overtime account had $35,822.14 available at that time to man the ambulance. Was there a plan to save the money and spend it on “Marine 1”?

Why was the Fire Department FY2012 overtime surplus not returned to the town? The school department returned $61,988.75 and the police department returned $57,608.39. The Fire Department returned only $3.75. This appears to be a total disregard for the citizens of Westport and a questionable management of funds.

The WTA now asks the BOS to conduct a thorough forensic fiscal and management audit of the Fire Department covering at least the past five fiscal years. Please acknowledge your receipt of this letter, and the intention of the Board of Selectmen concerning their action on this request.

Timothy Field

President, Board of Directors

Westport Taxpayers Association

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