by Cheryl Luther Michaels
EAST HARDWICK – The East Hardwick Fire District (EHFD#1) trustees Doug Casavant, Rachel Kane and Ed Keene meet on the second Tuesday of each month in the community room of the East Hardwick First Congregational Church to discuss the business of providing water to the Village of East Hardwick.
Until recently, this has been a lonely endeavor, attended by the three trustees, Secretary-Treasurer Giovanna Zaccaria, and occasionally a member or two. However, at the 2021 annual meeting on August 10, the small room was packed with residents concerned about water outages due to broken pipes and drought, funding for system upgrades, and the size of the board of three members. At that meeting it was decided to form an advisory committee to assist the board by exploring the possibility of obtaining grant and loan monies for improvements. At the September meeting, David O’Brien, Randy Thompson and Mike Lance were appointed to form the advisory committee.
This new involvement by the community brought to light several other issues with the water board that have been known but have languished. After discussions with a member of the select board and a member of the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO), Town Manager David Upson offered his assistance to resolve these problems and attended the November and December meetings.
The result is a list of challenges that the fire district has agreed to address in the upcoming months. The trustees have embraced many of these challenges and have already started working on them. These include developing by-laws and rules and regulations, posting meeting minutes, making financial information available when requested and improving communication about water outages and bleaching.
Other challenges come from the property that is owned by the district but has little to do with the district’s primary job of providing water to the village. The district owns fire hydrants, the village library building on Main Street (once the firehouse), a small parking area near the bridge, and a plot of land known as River Street. Due in part to the fact that the fire district no longer raises taxes or provides services other than the water system, some of this property has fallen into disuse and disrepair.
Use of the River Street property is a source of long-standing disputes between the property owners on the street. In its December meeting, the board agreed to pursue a resolution to the satisfaction of all parties involved and to provide equitable use of this land for all abutters.
A fire district is an odd construct that is legally a municipal corporation and is regulated by the Vermont State Statutes. All state and federal laws that apply to municipalities apply to fire districts.
After being established by the Hardwick Select Board in 1912, the EHFD#1 issued stock, borrowed money to extend the water system and established a village tax to pay for street lights and sidewalks (per HHS Journal article in the Spring, 2020 edition). Today, the district is responsible for a water system that serves the village, with most other municipal responsibilities having been absorbed by the town of Hardwick.