WHO’S RUNNING OUR FIRE DISTRICTS?
Until now, I’ve not reacted to the jibes and innuendo from opponents to change in our fire districts. But after the most recent assault, it is appropriate to respond.
Opponents of change have a standard attack book. First, they make up information to support their case, and ignore genuine reports and data. Second, they label as “liars” anyone who doesn’t agree. Third, they resort to vicious name calling.
They are notably unwilling to address the real issues involved. It is not increases in street lights or fire hydrants that drove costs higher at the Fire District: it was gross mismanagement, extraordinarily generous firefighter benefits and poor work practices. Any real fix must deal with these things, and the greatest obstacle has been union unwillingness to change anything.
I’ve always believed my duty is to do what I can to make government work better - make it efficient, effective and affordable - for my constituents. They deserve public officials and public institutions that look out for them, or at the very least do no harm.
I know the folks in my district. I've walked their neighborhoods, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk with them during my years as their State Representative. These are good, hard-working people struggling every day to pay the bills and put food on the table. And they worry because expenses keep going up faster than their paychecks.
Last year in Coventry at home after home, people complained about skyrocketing fire taxes, and a looming 70% increase. 70%! It is entirely unfair to push this kind of an increase on taxpayers as a result of incompetent fire district management. My constituents asked for help, and I set out to help find a better alternative.
It wasn’t just me: it's hard for one person alone to fight exorbitant spending. Getting this done requires allies and organization and leadership. I tried to provide some leadership, and I’ve had loads of help from others. Residents came to us from every corner of Coventry. The Taskforce was born to provide the average homeowner a voice they hadn’t had before.
And the tax increases were real. Protected by a charter that allowed just a few to exert control over the budget, Board actions were driving increases of 15% or more a year. Volunteer firefighters were replaced with full-timers. Taxpayer money was spent on non-essential equipment such as a $900,000 aerial ladder truck. The Board agreed to overtime-busting ten-man shifts at fire stations, far more than needed.
The result was skyrocketing operating costs, and the expectation that taxpayers would pick up the tab. But as huge tax bills landed in mailboxes throughout Central Coventry, the truth began to emerge. This wasn’t a passing problem, and the finances of every family were being seriously and negatively impacted.
Union President Dave Gorman and his supporters seem to think that if you shout “misrepresentation” and “liar” loud enough and long enough and often enough that people will start to believe it. But it hasn’t worked this time. Taxpayers have turned out in record numbers to vote and make their voice known, and they’ve said “enough!”
And the facts are available. Contracts and budgets are posted in black and white at www.coventrycitizens.com These public documents have been available for all to read from the beginning, and they are still there. Go read them: they paint a picture of a Union leadership with a voracious appetite for taxpayer dollars and no regard for the average person they 'serve.'
In the past, special interests such as the firefighters union have dominated the political conversation. Dues dollars and captive manpower are used to defeat candidates who won’t yield to their demands, however unreasonable. Because I stood up to help taxpayers in Coventry, the same firefighters who claim to serve us are picketing my house, penning a steady stream of vitriol on social media, sending caustic “news” releases to local media, discrediting me and the citizens serving on the Taskforce, and hoping to defeat those who speak out in next year’s election. Instead of working towards an affordable solution for everyone, they demand that nothing change, that high taxes remain, and opponents be silenced.
When in the hands of special interests, government fails to serve all of us, safeguarding neither our physical safety nor our financial well-being.
It is now time for fairness, and for authentic public service. I hope you will all continue to support me, the Taskforce and the new Fire District Board as we move forward.
This battle is not over. We can do this. And doing it is long overdue.