GUILFORD -- Algiers Fire District No. 1 will live on for another year.
That's the word from Guilford officials, who had been hoping to undertake a merger of the district into town operations sooner rather than later.
But there is not enough time to make that happen before this year's Town Meeting. So town officials now say they might conduct a public opinion poll of sorts at Town Meeting in order to gauge support for the merger before proceeding.
"I would see this as an opportunity to start educating the people in the town," Selectboard member Anne Rider said.
That's because there still are some misperceptions about the purpose of the volunteer-run district: In spite of its name, the organization has nothing to do with fire protection.
Rather, it was formed roughly two decades ago to administer the village sewer system.
The district ran into financial troubles when its former treasurer, Sherry Roebuck, was accused of embezzling more than $80,000 from the organization.
Roebuck was convicted on charges of federal program embezzlement and mail fraud. She was sentenced last year to serve 18 months in federal prison and to pay restitution.
Officials have said the district has been reimbursed through the Vermont League of Cities & Towns, which acts as an insurer for municipalities.
However, town officials have said there have been long-term discussions -- talks that predate the embezzlement probe -- about whether there still is a need for the fire district.
With volunteers straining under the district's workload, the town already has taken over administration of the Algiers sewer system. The town also handles all budgeting and billing.
There is support from both town and district officials for a merger that would end the district's existence as a separate municipal entity. Town officials also have said the district's customers would notice no difference.
However, actually executing a merger is no easy task.
"This is a big learning process," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said.
"It's a legal process of merging, which we can get guidance on through (VLCT)," Buckley told Selectboard members. "It's hearings and plans and that sort of stuff."
There also would be some expense involved, though officials said that might be absorbed by the fire district.
At any rate, timing issues mean a merger won't be decided at Town Meeting in March.
"It will involve an Australian Ballot vote, so it would have to be for next year to do it," Buckley said. "So before you go through that work to get to next year, you want to know if the (merger) vote itself is going to have support."
Buckley said she is consulting with VLCT to see whether voters at this year's Town Meeting might be polled on the matter.
"Is there a way to phrase the article in such a way (to determine whether) the town is going to support the work of this before we actually do the work?" she asked.
Selectboard members will decide on a possible Town Meeting article later this month.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.