Published DateTILTON-NORTHFIELD — The Tilfton-Northfield Fire Commission will pass a milestone tomorrow night when it fills the vacancy left by the resignation of longtime commissioner Tom Gallant. His successor will be the first woman to serve on the commission.
When the remaining commissioners, Pat Clark of Tilton and Paul Auger of Northfield, solicited applications for the position four women responded — Jane Alden, Judy Tilton and Les Dolecal, all of Tilton, and Gretchen Wilder of Northfield.
Alden, who serves as vice-chair of the Tilton Planning Board and sit on the Budget Committee challenged the re-election of Clark, then the incumbent chairman of the commission, in March, but fell short by a margin of 468 to 231. Tilton is a well-known local realtor. Dolecal served as Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections and most recently as Assistant Superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections. Wilder, who has followed the operations of the district closely for some time, was an outspoken critic of proposals to construct a public safety building and in 2010 served on the Northfield Fire Services Committee which recommended dissolving the district, a proposal voters soundly rejected by a margin of more than three-to-one.
Meanwhile, the commission finds itself at odds with the Tilton Selectboard over participation in discussions with the selectmen of Belmont and Sanbornton about increased cooperation among the three towns, including the future of the Winnisquam Fire Station.
When the Sanbornton selectmen invited the commission to a meeting last week, Clark and Auger declined, explaining that they were focusing their time on filling the vacant board seat. However, in their letter they welcomed the opportunity to meet "on matters that concern fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) . . . in particular at exploring the possibility of reopening the Winnisquam Fire Station."
At the same time, they made it plain that they expected "only the governing bodies for fire and EMS services among the three entities, Belmont Selectmen, Sanbornton Selectmen, and Tilton-Northfield Fire & EMS Commissioners, would be at the table for initial discussions."
That rankled the Tilton selectmen. Writing the commissioners, the selectmen expressed appreciation for their willingness to discuss providing fire protection and EMS services for the Winnisquam area, but took issue with being excluded from the discussions. "We strongly object to Mr. Clark's repeated assertions that the Tilton Selectmen should be excluded from participating in discussions concerning the needs of our citizens in East Tilton," they wrote.
The board reminded the commissioners that the town funded the Winnisquam Fire Department "for many years before the (Tilton-Northfield Fire) District did" and said "the same applies now." Acknowledging that the commissioners are responsible for the district as a whole, the selectmen insisted that they are equally bound to weigh the needs of all residents, including those of east Tilton.
The selectmen stressed that their participation "should in no way" be taken as diminution or preemption of the commissioner's authority while insisting that they "are the ones that are responsible for the taxpayers in the Town of Tilton and if there are decisions being made concerning the Town of Tilton's best interests, we should be a part of those conversations regarding the public safety of the residents of East Tilton."
Pat Consentino, who chairs the Selectboard, said yesterday that she believes the Northfield selectmen should also be party to the discussions. "It's not just about the Winnisquam station," she said. "There are also parts of Northfield that are underserved by the fire district. And it's not only about fire and EMS services, but about regionalization, about pooling our resources."