Following more than two hours of public discussion during a budget information session Thursday night, the Central Coventry Fire District Board of Directors unanimously voted against ratifying concessions made by the firefighters' union.
The decision resulted in a second unanimous vote in favor of submitting a recommendation to Superior Court Judge Brian P. Stern, requesting he authorize Special Master Rick Land to move forward with closing and liquidating the foundering fire district.
In court Wednesday morning, union attorney Marc Gurksy referenced a list of general concessions made by union members during several negotiation sessions totaling approximately $1 million. Due to the confidential nature of the rejected contract agreement, board attorney Dave D'Agostino explained to taxpayers Thursday that the specific concessions could not legally be made public record until board members voted to ratify them, which they failed to do.
Following the meeting, Board President Fred Gralinski said he and fellow directors felt the concessions made in the tentative agreement were insufficient in regards to formulating a realistic and balanced budget for the district going forward.
"We just didn't think that there were enough changes made in the agreement to allow the budget to work," he said.
During public discussion, Gralinski once again confirmed his opinion that neither the board's proposed budget or the $5.9 million "fall-back budget" originating from Rep. Scott Guthrie's H-6101 legislation, would be enough to cover the district's expenses, citing $7.2 million as the budget figure necessary to fund the district.
"No, I don't believe either this budget or the fall-back budget will actually cover the real, honest-to-goodness, no B.S., cost to run this district longterm," he said. "Part of the challenge our judge gave us was to figure this out long-term, and I don't see it."
The board will be heard in Kent County Superior Court at 9:30 a.m. Friday to submit their recommendation to Judge Stern.
Taxpayers of the Central Coventry Fire District will still be given the opportunity to approve or reject the proposed $5.6 million budget at Monday's annual budget meeting, but if the board's liquidation recommendation is approved in court, the funds would be used to close the fire district down instead of keeping it operational.
"I'm not surprised by the board's decision - they already had their minds made up," said union president and CCFD Captain David Gorman. "I am a little disheartened that we basically wasted a holiday weekend negotiating concessions only to have this be the end result."
Gorman went on to express his concern regarding what residents of the district can expect in terms of fire and emergency service if CCFD is in fact liquidated, suggesting that the looming public safety crisis may now fall in the hands of Coventry Town Council members to consider taking emergency action, similar to the interest-free $300,000 loan from the Town to the fire district when the threat of liquidation became a reality back in May of this year.
"If the judge enacts liquidation, we're [the union] going to appeal it in Superior Court," Gorman continued. "We'll appeal it to anyone that we have to."
Check back with Coventry Patch for additional coverage following Friday's Superior Court hearing.