Council’s Vote to Alter District Boundaries Was Reasonable

Citizens of East Derry Fire Precinct, et al. v. Town of Derry
Citizens of East Derry Fire Precinct, et al. v. Town of Derry
No. 2001-383
Monday, November 18, 2002
Residents of the Town of Derry had petitioned the town council to review and, if necessary, change the district boundaries of the Derry Fire District and the East Derry Fire Precinct (EDFP). The Town Council studied the issue and held public hearings following which the council voted to move certain areas from the EDFP to the Derry Fire District. Several residents of the EDFP petitioned the superior court to review the decision, alleging that the town council had no authority to change the EDFP boundaries and that the redistricting was done in a bad faith effort to shift the tax burden for fire protection in the Town of Derry. The EDFP intervened in the case. The superior court held that, pursuant to RSA 52, the town council did have the authority to change the boundaries of the EDFP but ruled that the vote to redistrict was unreasonable, potentially unlawful and an abuse of discretion. The court further concluded that the town had acted in bad faith.

The Town appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. After a lengthy review of the public safety factors supporting the decision to redistrict, the supreme court held that the superior court had misconstrued evidence and substituted its judgment for that of the town council. The court concluded that the public safety evidence had supported the town council’s decision. Important in the Supreme Court’s decision was the fact that the Derry Fire Department could reach certain parts of the EDFP faster than the East Derry Fire Department. An independent consulting firm and the fire chiefs from both districts all supported the conclusion that the gap in response time was a significant public safety factor.