By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT/LACONIA— Belmont selectmen have agreed with the Laconia City Council that fire chief services for both communities should be combined, meaning that Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson and Assistant Fire Chief Kirk Beattie will assume management control of the Belmont Fire Department.
The agreement was supported in a nonpublic session by Belmont Selectmen on Monday and by the Laconia City Council in a nonpublic session later that evening. Selectman Ruth Mooney said the selectmen met with acting Fire Chief Sean McCarty on Tuesday and with the entire Belmont Fire Department staff Wednesday morning. She said Erickson met with all of the Belmont staff after their meeting.
"I couldn't be happier or more supportive," said Mayor Edward Engler. "Hopefully, this is the first step toward a much greater level of inter-municipal cooperation with the delivery of essential services."
It's been about three weeks since former Belmont Fire Chief David Parenti resigned to take a job in Massachusetts. Selectman Jon Pike said that Laconia City Manager Scott Meyers initially reached out to Belmont Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin about the idea of consolidating chief services.
At a subsequent meeting between Engler, Mooney, Beaudin and Meyers, they agreed to bring it to their respective boards, who supported the idea.
"This is the greatest thing that ever happened," said Pike, who said in the long run this agreement could save both communities a great deal of money. "I hope it works out the way it's intended."
Although the actual agreement has not been completed by both legal teams, Engler and Pike said that the Belmont Fire Department will still be the Belmont Fire Department and the employees will still be Belmont employees, members of their own union and Belmont selectmen will still control hiring and pay.
He said the highest ranking officer will report to Erickson and Beattie.
"We think it's a positive for both communities," said Mooney, who went on to say that she thinks it will broaden training and diversification for the Belmont employees and that it will be a good thing.
"I think it's a positive move forward," Mooney said alluding to the fact that different consolidations of services have been discussed in "back rooms" for 30 years.
Mooney called the arrangement "groundbreaking" and said she thinks each department will benefit from the arrangement.
Engler said he wanted to "congratulate Ruth Mooney and her fellow selectmen for them being brave enough to think outside the box. They're doing all of us in the Lakes Region and great service."
"The shared goal her is more efficient and cost effective delivery of essential services.," he said.
Engler and Mooney said that once the inter-municipal agreement is hammered out, both the Belmont selectmen and the Laconia City Council will have to approve it before it can go into effect.