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Updated: As Fire District Liquidates, Coventry Taxpayers could be Holding the Bag

Town officials now trying to figure out how to provide fire service for residents of the Central Coventry Fire District after liquidation.

In 90 days, 44 firefighters and four administrators will be out of a job, the largest fire district in town will be without a dedicated fire department and some — or all — Coventry residents might be facing large supplemental tax bills to pay off a debt that could range from $20 to $30 million.

Meanwhile, Town Council President Gary P. Cote has planned a meeting for next Tuesday with the fire chiefs and representatives of the town’s three other fire districts to discuss a contingency plan to split coverage of the Central Coventry Fire District, which is all but certain to be liquidated starting May 16 after Superior Court Judge Brian P. Stern finally ended a protracted legal case that has embroiled this town of 33,000 for the last few years.

Residents in the Central Coventry Fire District are now asking : what’s next? And more importantly, how much is this going to all cost?

Dave Gorman, president of the firefighter’s union puts the cost estimate at about $25 to $30 million. The beleaguered fire district has about $2 million in the bank and selling off all the fire engines, buildings, equipment and everything else certainty won’t cover the whole debt.

“It didn’t have to come to this,” Gorman said. But he said the writing was on the wall and he, like many, were not surprised by Stern’s ruling this week.

“[The judge] had no choice,” Gorman said.

“At the end of the day, the firefighters will move on and find new jobs but the people of the Central Coventry Fire District are going to be left with a gaping hole and the people of Coventry are going to have to pay down the debt,” he said.

Cote said the town is in a catch-22, since the town charter says the town is responsible for the safety and health of all residents even though the fire districts have their own legislative charters and Coventry itself doesn’t provide fire service.

He agrees that Judge Stern had no choice. His hands were tied, Cote said, and “ultimately we’re going to have to provide service to taxpayers.”

The plan to split the Central Coventry Fire District up by three will be submitted to the judge and receiver, Cote said. It’s an idea that isn’t new, but it’s what must happen to make sure residents can go to sleep at night knowing someone will heed their calls for help if needed.

While Gorman says the fallout from the liquidation could finally be the impetus for the town choosing to create its own municipal fire service, or at least, consolidation of the different fire districts, Cote said there’s not much appetite for that on the Town Council.

“There is no flavor on the town council right now to establish a municipal fire department,” Cote said. “And I don’t think that it’s fair to the surrounding districts that have done everything right — to lose what they have because of the mistakes of the Central Coventry Fire District.”

And for the town to take on the responsibility of negotiating with what would become the largest union in the town is risky because “Coventry doesn’t have a good history of dealing with municipal unions,” Cote said. “The definition of insanity is to keep making mistakes and expecting the same results.”

Still, the quandary remains for local officials to figure out how to ensure adequate fire service for the residents in the liquidated district. And who ends up holding the bag is up for debate. If every Coventry resident had to pay up, it could be a supplemental tax approaching $10,000 per household. That number only goes up if the burden isn’t distributed town-wide.

And any changes would require significant legal heavy lifting. Each fire district exists as taxing authorities, legislatively enabled with their own charters. But each brings its own chief, board, administrative staff and overhead.

“This is an opportunity for the town and the fire districts to get their collective heads out of the sand and move forward with one town-wide fire department,” Gorman said. “The way that we deliver services in this town are so upside down and archaic. It’s just a backwards way of delivering fire and rescue services.”

And with liquidation, the trucks, stations and equipment will be sold off so any new fire district will have to be built from the ground up.

Gorman said the issue spun out of control as time wore on, the election year last year not helping matters as more and more voices entered the fray. It clouded the focus of everyone involved, he said, and productive work on finding a way to restructure the debt, pass a budget and keep operating kept getting pushed aside with rhetoric and politics.

“I’m frustrated with the ruling. I expected it, but I’m frustrated,” Gorman said. “The mechanism is in place, the funding is in place, it’s just a matter of paying back debt and everyone lost focus on that. They were attacking the firefighters contract attacking operations of the department, putting blame on previous administrations. They lost focus on the judge’s order of paying back the debt and going forward.”

 More coverage of the fire district ruling will be posted soon. Mark Schieldrop can be reached at Mark.Schieldrop@patch.com

harleyrider8272 February 16, 2014 at 05:43 PM
Richard Sanetti did pull a shit deal but his post is kind of spot on. We need a mayor in this town, Assalone one of the biggest developers in this town will now have his nephew in charge of the building dept.and his daughter works for town that's just for starters. Brown at HH makes more the Fire Chief in Warwick for running ONE station and his wife gets paid form HH as tax collector AND the town as a tax collector. Something look funny here or is it me?? Come on all you johnny dregs and brown supporters let's here the company line!!!!
harleyrider8272 February 16, 2014 at 05:46 PM
Come on reasonable tax fool your one they're butt boy's what say ya??
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 06:32 PM
Look it up Harley, that's what I say...tell me it's not true and that I made it up...Fire budget whole town of Smithfield RI 4.6 Million dollars.....what's wrong with ccfd? Why so expensive here? How do they do it? Our budget is a million more and it's not even for the whole town....explain it please...seriously. Bet you can't do it...let alone without one you your snide ass bun boy comments....
Realistic Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 06:59 PM
Mr. Reasonable Taxpayer, although I was not invited, nor do I have or claim to have any type of the proper documents to answer your inquiry with any more accuracy than you may have,in reference to the Smithfield Fire Department budget, I will toss these thoughts out there to provoke thought for either those whom agree or disagree with you. 1. Does this budget include pension payments? If so where is that particular line item? 2. Does this budget include any type of capital improvement projects, that may or not be paid from the general fund? 3. Does this budget include payroll taxes, FICA payments, various types of insurance, health or otherwise? 4. Does this budget include any civil services, such as street lighting or hydrant rental? 5. Does this budget include fuel or maintenance on vehicles? 6. Does this budget include any outstanding debt such as, payments on any vehicles? The list could go on. If you do however, know the answers to these questions, can you please let us know where to find them so they may be researched correctly. Thank you.
Gem101 February 16, 2014 at 07:11 PM
Hey TA; Jealous give me a break,Maybe if you were a long time taxpayer of CCFD or the town for exact you would know that the Vice President of the Town Council at the time made some shady deals up there in the East section of his district. Maybe your his butt boy to defend him( It sounds like you know who was paid off) but as far as I'm concerned he's a fake, phony, lier,and anything else you can call someone who took advantage of his position and now you defend him when as VP he should have been looking out for his district. You can't convince me he didn't know what was going on with the Budget, I was born at night but, not last night.
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:12 PM
The budget it's the budget...look it up...it's on line.
Realistic Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:22 PM
Just say "I don't know". Good Day.
Steve Fay February 16, 2014 at 07:23 PM
Capital improvements in Smithfield are listed in Municipal Capital Improvements page I-40. Smithfield participates in the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk management trust (Community self insurance) I am sure the Fire Department is under the Solicitor's umbrella (Legal). The Fire Department doesn't list Street lighting in the budget. They probably bond for apparatus. They have a water supply board within their water department that services North Providence and in fact is 1/3 their distribution. Please Reasonable Taxpayer comparisons must be paired for justification. Your posts are a continuation of the problems being that of the firefighters. Oh and the Smithfield FD has 54 employees CCFD is at what somewhere around 40? I am positive if you paired wages and benefits they are close to equal. That answer sufficient?
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:23 PM
I do know....prove me wrong...I made the claim
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:24 PM
Nonsense from the ccfd faithful
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:26 PM
Realistic, You must be Harley's attorney.
Realistic Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:34 PM
Your very correct, Reasonable, you did make the claim and I asked you a few basic questions to substantiate your claim, and where I might be able to find the required information to validate your position. I was in no way disagreeing, because I didn't and still don't have all the information, until you stated "prove me wrong". With that statement you have lost all credibility.
Mohawk February 16, 2014 at 07:44 PM
Street lights fall under Public works ,and from the info that I have scene Hydrants fall under the Water dept .
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:45 PM
Yeah...you must be a lawyer...I can tell by that smug attitude..town of Smithfield...finance dept. Town council approved budget summery 2013...page 1-4, 1-5....enjoy
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 07:47 PM
What difference does the hydrant and street lights make they....didn't pay the bill anyway. And Smithfield has 54 employees....10'more than ccfd had and they have a balanced budget
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 08:08 PM
One important comparison you left out mr Fay..... I only quoted central coventry....Smithfield is for the whole town...central coventry does not service the whole town.....it would be even worst if we added the other districts and their costs...
Realistic Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 08:09 PM
Ok, so we were both looking at the same "summery", and from that brief "summery" we do not know any specifics included or not included within that department's budget, for anyone reading this, to make an educated thought on why the budgets are different.
Steve Fay February 16, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Reasonable Taxpayer will you be attending the cherry blossom festival in early April? You seem to pick very precisely! The reference on employee numbers were not strictly for the Fire Service comparison. Take the budgets and start adding all the costs that are relevant in Smithfield. I am sure that figure will soar past CCFD's. You made no mention of any of the other indices in my post. You are not making a fair comparison. Now to the more important issue, LIVES and PROPERTY! You never make mention about the lying by our supposed "leaders". You can have all the fodder you wish sir but in the end your posts advocate for ONE MUNICIPAL FIRE DEPARTMENT!
Reasonable Taxpayer February 16, 2014 at 08:43 PM
When I first moved here I was quite puzzled why coventry did not have one fire dept. But I thought that hey, I guess this way of doing business works here, Then as my tax bill kept rising each year I began to learn more and more about the crazy politics involving the different districts. I thought that consolidation was a step in the right direction. Boy was I wrong. There are so many competing interests in the crazy fire town. I don't know what is right. But this I do know, CCFD is broken and can not be fixed. And that is the sad part.
harleyrider8272 February 16, 2014 at 08:48 PM
Unreasonable exactly what years and how much did your taxes go up ?
Just Me February 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM
Reasonable, I pay almost $10,000 for Police and garbage pick up. I also live on a state rd and have no other town service, and I also have no kids who went to school in this town. $ 800 a yr for Fire and EMS coverage compared to the other taxes I pay, I have no issues. Why pick on the fire department??? Judge Stern said right out its not the fire fighters nor the Union who caused this problem...so whats your real gripe?
David Gorman February 16, 2014 at 10:18 PM
The CCFD approved budget is $4.6 million. Smithfield’s is 4.6 also?? Anyways, at first blush and not knowing what is actually in Smithfield’s Fire budget and what is actually in the Town of Smithfield’s municipal budget, it can be reasonably concluded that Smithfield Fire budget does not have costs associated which correlates to taxing. CCFD and all of the other Fire Districts have the duplicated expense of operating a Fire Tax Division as well as Fire and Rescue. Just to run the Tax Division in CCFD has costs of three tax ladies, their payroll, workers comp, FICA, etc... as well as office costs of computers, software, hardware, phone lines, printing postage and the like. Smithfield does not. The costs to be able to generate Fire Tax bill just in CCFD is around 100K or more. Now add the other three Districts costs to that. Let’s assume 45K (average) for the others. 45K x 3 =135K. to maintain and operate four separate fire tax offices in the Fire Districts is around 235K +/-. This number must be taken off the CCFD and other districts budget when comparing budgets. Also factor in a reduction in Health Care costs to Smithfield budget. Why? Because municipalities such as Smithfield are able to purchase health care in a large group municipal plan at a much lower cost than a small business plan. Here in Coventry, Fire Districts must purchase health care under a small business plan because they are separate, small entities and not large municipalities. You must reduce the costs for repair or maintenance from the fire district budgets when comparing. Why? Because the repair and maintenance expense on Fire Trucks or facilities and equipment in Smithfield or any other municipality is also significantly reduced from that of CCFD or other Fire Districts in Coventry.
David Gorman February 16, 2014 at 10:18 PM
In any other municipality, one can pick up the phone and call the Town Garage to send over a mechanic to fix the fire truck or rescue at no cost, other than parts. Not the case here in CCFD or Coventry. In Coventry, because we are not part of the Town, tax dollars are spent on third-party vendors, usually at a much higher rate to come in and service the truck and equipment. Even if the Town Mechanic is readily available, we cannot use them. If a garbage truck or a dump truck breaks down, the town mechanic is sent to the site of the broken truck and the repair or an attempt to repair is made on-site. If a fire truck breaks down, call a Tow truck, tow it to the mechanics shop, have it sit there until he gets around to repairing it and then pay the bill for the Tow and the mechanic. This translates into a much higher cost of doing business for the Fire Districts, wasted tax dollar, and inefficient service. Same is true with facilities. The heat or boiler goes down; we call a third-party repair service even though the Town may have a Physical Plant or Maintenance Technician on duty. Snowplowing, hire a third-party service to plow the fire stations, even though the Town has 40 plow trucks and drivers working when it is snowing. Add streetlights and hydrants to the list as well, another 400K just for CCFD budget. Those items are usually seen in a single municipal budget, not a Fire Department budget, but here in Coventry you will see those costs or expenses repeated in each fire district budget. Although there are many more examples I could cite, you can see the point and it is really simple; Smithfield or other Municipal Fire Budgets cannot be compared to CCFD or to the other Fire Districts in Coventry. The Fire Districts are Towns within Towns. They have costs of doing business projected into their budgets that ordinarily would not be in a real municipal budget for a fire department. The items mentioned are costs and expenses which are shared costs with all of the other Municipal departments or divisions within that community and thus are aggregate expenses figured into the general budget and not necessarily reflected in the specific department budget of that community. So is the budget in Smithfield or any other community REALLY lower? It may look like it at first, but peel back the layers. I am not saying that I think it is right, nor am I defending how things are being done here in the fire districts, I’m merely identifying the facts as to why the costs APPEAR to be higher in Coventry.
Gem101 February 17, 2014 at 08:17 AM
Dave; You don't need to explain the difference in the other towns,let these so call know it all do there own homework. The only thing left is to move forward and let the chips fall as they may. Good luck for you and all the other first responders in the future. Again for what it's worth Thank you and all the FF that did a Good job while they were here
mad hatter February 17, 2014 at 11:25 AM
David, what is the position of the union? are you going to try and give a last ditch effort before liquidation to kick a permanent budget to just over 5mil or let the district liquidate? just curious as to what the thought of the union is. PS, if Stern sees a constructive deal with the district, he could suspend the liquidation.
Steve Fay February 17, 2014 at 11:46 AM
Dave thank you for confusing all your haters with facts. Now once again nothing but crickets and stars! mad hatter, I believe that Mr. Gorman and the other union officers attempted many times to help with this problem. The result was a tentative agreement presented to Judge Stern following Columbus Day weekend. In court that day Mr. Gralinski got up addressed the court and undermined any semblance of work that was accomplished. He lied to the court and to us the taxpayers. The previous lies that were flyer dropped by the "Task Force", the lying by the board and the continuation of harassment by Patricia Morgan and you want the Firefighters to present effort? Who in their right mind would trust these people? The only thing I see is work between Mr. Land and the local. The Judge has had enough. I believe it is time for this "district" nonsense to be placed along side the la brea tar pits! Time for some real leadership with a compass, a plan, and a move to toward the 21'st century.
harleyrider8272 February 17, 2014 at 01:39 PM
If I am correct this is an election year, Time to put a gun to the heads of the mutts ( there has been no leadership shown on they're part) and force them to do what's right for the public safety of this town or THROW THEYRE ASSES OUT!!!
harleyrider8272 February 17, 2014 at 01:43 PM
GARY COTE....TIME TO LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! ONE TOWN..ONE DEPARTMENT!!!!
mad hatter February 17, 2014 at 02:55 PM
thank you steve but my question was not directed to you and was not asking about the past. David, please answer if you may.
Reasonable Taxprayer February 17, 2014 at 04:25 PM
Here's something even better! Coventry's Bonnie and Clyde (A public safety Valentine present) A year ago or a month on either side, came the birth of Coventry’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. Two black hearts beating side by side Fred and Pat decided to ride. Instead of guns and banks to hit they used propaganda full of shit! Pillow talk or a moonlit walk they’d scheme and plan each day. So by lying they’d take the public’s safety away. She whispered to Fred, his answer was “yes Pat dear”. “Here’s what we’ll do” she said with no fear as she knew the treasurer would be dead in a year. “That Gorman and crew we will set up and screw” thus, started the ride of Coventry’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. In March the stew began to spew, an attack with fabrication and lies. Their sordid acts drew more in and the gang began to rise. By attempting to be truthful in an outward sign, their twisted affairs they crafted to hide. See folks this is Coventry and it is easy to ride when you’re the town’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie retired each evening warm, safe, and rested for as a citizen of Coventry she was not even vested. Nights for Fred, a different story as his world was such of eroded glory. Fred figured they had performed quite the trick. Now he looks down holding only his prick. For on Wednesday this past the courtroom aghast, as the truth they could not hide. Judge Stern read the word and it was over for Coventry’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. See what tangled webs are weaved when the public is deceived and the truth is taken with an attempt to hide. That is what Patty and Freddy did when they became Coventry’s public safety version of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde. They said they had a plan, we were promised it was grand, but in reality it had an evil dark side. All brought to us by Coventry’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. Now no one knows what happens next. Coventry is in a quandary it is quite the mess. The actions of these two and their gang of fools have left nothing to decide. You see, Judge Stern saw right through Coventry’s public safety version of Bonnie and Clyde. A call for help in the night at some point won’t get right. An aganal breath will lead to death and then graveside.... yeah, you guessed who is responsible, Coventry’s public safety version of our own Bonnie and Clyde. I will leave you a thought of Pat and Fred, them smiling for pictures and victory poses. They gave a Valentine’s gift to our Town, a bouquet of “Black” Roses. You can support the board or the other side, but in the end it is all the same for this they cannot hide. Let us hope that just like the original, this is the last ride for Coventry’s public safety version, our own despicable version of Bonnie and Clyde. Wm "Bill" Overdeaux

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