Seltzer: Coventry Budget Problem 'Could Have Been Avoided'

The former CCFD chief speaks about the Central Coventry Fire District's recent financial problems — and how it informed his decision to move to Smithfield.


After watching the recent budget issues in his former fire department — including a decision to pursue receivership for the Central Coventry Fire District — new Smithfield Fire Chief Robert Seltzer spoke with Patch about the issue.

"It could have been avoided," Seltzer said during a phone interview. "I attended the financial meeting, since I'm still a resident and a taxpayer in that district — the budget was presented very poorly. Questions were asked to the board about the tax rate, about the deliquencies and the debt, and the board couldn't provide concrete answers, and it upset the people at the meeting."

Seltzer also said that he moved to Smithfield — which, unlike Coventry, centralizes its fire and rescue service under the town government — partly to avoid such issues.

"The system here is more efficient — in Coventry, you have four districts there, so I was looking to move on," Seltzer explained. "A small fact in my decision has been what's gone on in the last year and a half — the district became a political football for some residents."

The main financial problem in Central Coventry, Seltzer said, is that it's got past delinquencies — reported by Coventry Patch to be $200,000, and a nearly $1 million overall deficit — and without approving a higher budget this year, "there was nowhere else to get the funds" to make up the difference.

"It's a fixable road, but quite frankly, I don't blame the taxpayers because at the meeting, they weren't given concrete answers about where their taxes were going," he explained.

[Read more: , from Coventry Patch, Oct. 3, 2012.]

Once the Coventry district issues tax bills, "the payments come back quickly — usually, within two or three days, you're collecting $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 a day." Seltzer added.

To the suggestion that the town should combine all of its fire departments — presumably to lower costs — Seltzer said there are some legal hurdles in the way.

"I know that the [Coventry] Town Charter has a provision that allows the town to put in place a single fire department, but the problem is that the assest of the department don't belong to the town," Seltzer explained. "They belong to private corporations, which are the fire districts — so, other than getting a court order to seize those assets, the town would literally have no assets."

Seltzer also said he feels the Coventry situation is a case of "people running off of emotion instead of logical thinking, and I feel bad, because it's a great department, they're good people, and it's a great town — it's sad to see this happen."

Check out Smithfield Patch's introduction article from Chief Seltzer's appointment at his new department.


Chief Robert W. Seltzer October 14, 2012 at 02:00 AM
As I told you before Mr. Garvy, which you failed to take advantage of, I would be happy to discuss the history of CCFD anytime time you would like. Then, if you want to make judgement of me, be my guest, but please become informed first. I can be reached Monday - Friday at the Smithfield Fire Dept. Headquarters.
John October 14, 2012 at 03:08 AM
simple----uncollected taxes, No tax increases in three years! John assalone and his band of misfits...Does everyone realize that your meetings are run by a band of people from assalones "mobile home park' ? Get your ass to the meetings!!!
Uncle Bob October 14, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Chief, you can tell all of us, because a million dollar deficit didn't just pop up, some of this had to be accrued on your watch. We would prefer your Monday - Fridays be spent serving the Town of Smithfield and ensuring they are left in a mess someday.
Chief Robert W. Seltzer October 14, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Uncle Bob: I never said it did not accrue on my watch! Again, emotion over facts. As I have been saying for the last two years, people in Coventry have lost pride in their community, Good luck to you all!
RS October 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Chief, not really worth your time to try to explain. THe ones posting here are anti-firefighter anti municiple employee. Coventry is different than most Towns because the taxpayers vote on the budget and spending. I am pretty certain that the individuals posting here have never taken the time to attend a meeting or speak at one either for or against anything. I have no use for anyone that has teh opportunity to make a contribution and doesn't and then has the nerve to speak out here while safely hiding behind a computer. Maybe Uncle Bob would grace us with his solutions at the next meeting and become part of the community.
Uncle Bob October 14, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I'm not anti-firefighter, anti-union. Coventry isn't "different", we all have to live within our means. The solution to this isn't volunteer firefighters, response time is too slow for that, it can't be over the top taxation, it can't be firefighters working for free, has to be some middle ground. Radicals on BOTH sides stake their positions and don't move from them.. And Ex-Chief, I didn't claim you didn't claim (pretty funny statement) it did not acrue on your watch, I simply was saying you could tell us all how it happened, my point being it didn't just happen, and instead of mis-information form all sides, you clearly would have a lot of FACTS to give to us all. I didn't go to the last meeting, I will go to the next one, but it seems from the newspaper reports even people there to support the tax increase where miffed at differing reports handed to them that night... $300,000 difference or something. I'm open to listen and would love to hear facts, and not the crazies from either side, which I am neither. I am trying to get myself up to speed on this issue because it caught me off guard, and the only ones suffering now are people that call for emergencies, I would think the response time has to be a little slower, and the firefighters working for free, they all have family obligations, this should not be and can not stand. If people can learn to meet in the middle on things, we wouldn't be in this mess, in Coventry, in R.I., in the USA.
Steven Autieri October 14, 2012 at 08:33 PM
I have known Chief Seltzer and many of the CCFD firefighters for many years. Chief Seltzer is a man who knows how to run a department, so don't blame him unless you know the facts. They run a sound fire and EMS service that rivals the best in the state. Problems happen, you need to provide them the resources to do their jobs effectively. Everyone's taxes are going up...get over it.
Uncle Bob October 14, 2012 at 10:57 PM
So all day I wait for FACTS like you say "we" don't know. SO TELL US.!!!! you know Chief Seltzer yet there is a million dollar deficit that didn't arrive overnight, so tell us how it happened. I'm all ears. I really don't know. I see $200,000 - $300,000 quoted as unpaid taxes, let's go with the high one of $300K, so what makes up the $700K to get to the million, or is the million not a real figure? FACTS, spit em out and let us know....
plain tired October 15, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Uncle Bob- Why would the response times be slower? I find that comment appalling!! These guys are working for free and now you make implications? I assure you that you currently are not experiencing any change to your services. How can you kick these guys when they are most assuredly at one of the lowest points in their careers? Where are YOUR facts?
Uncle Bob October 15, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Plain Moron, did you read my comments or only pick and chose the one you want to pick on? I was all positive on CCFD firemen, you cherry picked the one comment that gives you any daylight where I said "I would think the response time has to be a little slower," and I say that because I can't imagine each station is at FULL strenght, if they are, then my comment still wouldn't factually be incorrect, because I said "I imagine".. For god's sake, read, understand, respond. I don't like them working for free at all, I believe that is terrible. But for all the clowns like yourself jumping in here, why can't ONE person list the million dollar deficit, and account for why it happened.. Which figure is correct, $200K or $300K or another figure of delinguincies?? what is the rest of the deficit and what is the reason for whatever the total is? Is this a hard question? I don't question the firefighters, it's terrible what they are going through, and hats off for working for free, read back my posts and you won't see ANY potshots at the firemen.. idiot.
John October 15, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Uncle bob consider this, expenses go up Insurance, fuel,hydrants , lights ETC. State cuts you two years ago by 230,000.00 a year for car tax reimbursment, taxes don't go up for three years..getting the picture here?
Uncle Bob October 15, 2012 at 01:36 AM
John, no, not getting the picture. Why don't we do this, maybe you can enlighten me. 1.) What is the actual deficit? 2.) Has it acrued over the years, and if so, tell me what year it started, and what the deficit was that year. i.e. 2009 $300,000 2010 $500,000 2011 $800,000, etc.. 3.) Don't they have to balance the budget annually? 4.) Two years ago you say they lost $230 from the State, why didn't 2 years ago budget account for that? 5.) Was there confusion at the meeting regarding some numbers, I can't find the article, but it said something about two competing numbers that didn't match, so even the people there to support the budget were alarmed/concerned, shed some light on that. 6.) I understand expenses go up every year, and understand there will be annual increases to the tax, seems like CCFD went for the whole million this year, even though it's been years in the making... Add it all up, divide it by the number of taxpayers, send out a supplemental, wipe out the current board and start fresh. Cranston was in huge financially trouble when Laffy got in, want to know what he did, and everyone says he was a financial genius. $10 million or so in the whole, divided that figure by the number of taxpayers, sent out a supplemental for that figure, deficit gone. Genius, wasn't he!!!
Fred Garvy October 15, 2012 at 12:00 PM
If historically the District collected 96% of taxes then that is the number to back into, meaning that should be the projected budget. It can and should increase every year by the CPI. The CPI takes into account increases in fuel, and the general cost of doing business.What it does not calculate is the cost of contractual raises and minimum manning stipulations. Those items are managed into the budget by the board. The balance of what is fair to both the taxpayer and the employee is the job of the board and the Chief. Unfortunately when management forgets whom they represent, the taxpayer, we end up in receivership. This is not the fault of the economy. This rests squarely on the shoulders of those who ran the department, the ex-chief and the board. The economy has been sagging since 2006, so we had 6 years to tighten our belts in our own homes. Did this department do that prior to or after the merge? No they didn't because they took the stance of "screw it, just raise taxes" and here we sit. We all have our opinions and mine is that Seltzer knew this problem was coming to a head and he bailed. Why else would a guy so dedicated to a department he help create want to leave it? I applaud the workers for coming in unpaid. Reality is they don't have a choice. They will and should receive back pay when the $$ start to flow again trust me they are not doing it for free, it's more payment deferred.
Fred Garvy October 15, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Nice posts Thank you S Murray
S. Murray October 15, 2012 at 05:47 PM
I am removing all my posts sorry guys
Kathleen October 15, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Thank God Coventry is different! Would much rather be able to vote on budget than to just have politicians dictate what funding goes where. YES, I vote And no, John I do not live in Westwood Estates but guess what? They pay taxes too. I think this whole situation is disgraceful. People get paid to run depts and maintain a budget. If this was the chief's personal business, what would he have done when the well ran dry? The issue is that all levels of govt/municipalities that receive their monies from the taxpayers see it as a bottomless well. I think this town is has way too many firehouses. Don't even get me started on the Freakin' fill the Boot campaign that ties up traffic, equipment, endangers peoples lives, wastes my money and does not donate to the charity of my choosing.......Ah but I digress(How much money is spent during those weekends?) Who is accountable for the overspending? What will happen?
RS October 15, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Kathleen, if you don't want to put money in the boot, don't..... it's pretty simple. Don't believe it costs any extra for the weekends they are collecting. Glad you are one that attends the meetings and votes. There should be more people that do that, I am including the Townwide Financial Town meeting. The system is there to let taxpayers vote yes or no. As a bigger step, stop voting idiots onto these boards. People should look at the qualifications of the board member before voting for them. Seems like groups get their "friends" elected to boards in hopes of getting what they want. A better vote would be for a person that will look at the issues and vote on what is best for all.
Lauren Costa (Editor) October 15, 2012 at 08:55 PM
@Kathleen: In regards to the Fill the Boot campaign, all of the firefighters who collect during those drives are either volunteering their time or in between calls. http://patch.com/A-xfnh
MPD October 20, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Here is the reality-- Corporate workers make a lot of money, civil servants--well-- not comparable at all. What a laugh...you complain about the contract being out of whack.I believe concessions of exorbanant amounts were and have been made, but when you think you know something but dont. You just speak. It is supposed to be a partnership between the community and civil servants. The common ground is built in....Really People--just like Bob Seltzer says--facts not emotions. These people put their lives on the line without blinking an eye, and you corporate workers making a huge percentage more yearly then they are--still find a way to turn around the facts. Enjoy your fat paychecks...and make sure you keep telling those civil servants how much they are getting via contract. Or- you could work together and understand the bigger picture and maybe decide to concede to something yourselves. What a concept...not a new one, just a forgotten one. Definitely in the know
Stanley Martin October 20, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Yes Kathleen the union over all, has raised over 275 million dollars in "the boot" for the MDA. Sorry for tying up traffic 275 million is just pocket change, those firefighters are just wasting their time..... WAKE UP KATHLEEN
Stanley Martin October 20, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Next time you want to donate to a sick child make sure Kathleen isn't behind you, she doesn't like traffic.
RIFT October 20, 2012 at 06:53 PM
MPD I totally disagree with your post, I know firefighters in Coventry, maybe not at CCF, but they are making close to or more than 100k a year. This is more than several individuals I know in the private sector, who have a college education well beyond a four year undergraduate degree. Not to mention individuals who work for private companies have to try and retire on investments made to their 401k, while civil servants get a pension. When a firefighter is making close to 100k, do we really need to provide them with a pension? I thought the original intent of a pension was to provide individuals who did not make enough money to adequately save for their own retirement while working for the community. Individuals who have worked hard and invested in real estate, in this town, to provide for their family as well as their own retirement are getting crushed by ever increasing property and fire taxes while the economy is such that it does not allow for rents to be increased at the same rate the town is trying to increase property taxes. RE values have fallen drastically, while tax have steadily increased. I have no problem doing my part and paying a tax increase for fuel and supplies, but I would also like to see a gesture on the part of the employees of CCF...such as pay freeze for a reasonable number of years, limits on overtime and and agreement that any increase in the cost of their health insurance should come directly out of their pay.
Kathleen October 21, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Stanley, You are missing my point. The firefighters are standing in the middle of the road, creating a dangerous situation and a traffic tie- up. They have MY emergency vehicles parked there so they must be on duty. Are we paying them to collect for charity? Do they need a permit to stand in the road to collect. My charity of choice is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Did I get a vote which charity that my firefighters would collect for while on my dime? Even if not on my dime, the vehicles are there and that is on my dime. They and the traffic is tied up and I can't tell you how many times I've seen the collectors with their backs to moving traffic while they are standing in the middle of the road. How long do you think you could stand in the road collecting before the cops got you out of there. Wake up yourself Stanley, The firefighters hold rte 3 hostage every year and I am really willing to bet it is on our dime. If the town firefighters are going to collect for a charity perhaps it should be put to a vote as to which charity the town wishes to support.
Kathleen October 21, 2012 at 10:39 PM
"The collection crews were supplemented by several on-duty firefighters in between calls but mostly consisted of off-duty firefighters who volunteered their own time." Visit that link and re read what it says...I copied it for you..".On-Duty" Thanks for proving my point
RS October 22, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Wow, I'm a paid firefighter in a mid sized RI municipality and even with OT I don't make 100k. Maybe I'll apply for a job. I find it hard to believe they all make 100k.....do you have some documentation??? Salaries are all public record, why don't you get a copy and let us all see.
Mary October 24, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Kathleen--you're heartless. I'm sure you drive by those boots in your mercedes. By the way, every city/town does this...get a life and stick to the real issues. Go donate for the charity of your choice...but to bash people who are trying to collect charitable donations is disgusting in my eyes. Your comments don't even deserve a response but boy do I feel better...sure it's not the first time you've been called a heartless witch!
Kathleen October 24, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Mary, I am not bashing people collecting for charity. I am stating the fact that town workers are collecting for charity while on the clock. If you think I am wealthy you are wrong. I work my a** off all day long and could not and would not be allowed to stand out the middle of the road, trying to raise contributions while working my job. You really have no problem paying people's salaries while they are not working but are fundraising? Every time you move those vehicles out of the station it has a price tag- it costs money. I am not a witch nor heartless. I realize every city and town does this and I still think that doesn't make it alright. There is no emotion necessary here; this is simple business. Glad you feel better Mary.
dohn joe December 26, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Kathleen, there is no need to respond to their comments. it seems those are the firemens wives. Anyway, as i see it, the bigwigs didnt do their jobs, and they went over their budgets. So what happens when people dont do their jobs? They get FIRED. The only time we will ge answers is when their at retirement age so they can step down and collect their pensions, then say 'whoops'. As for you kathleen, you are 100% correct. They are on your dime standing there stopping traffic, merely begging for money. I understand its for a good cause, but cant they do it off the clock. Those large trucks that are sitting there with them are very expensive to fuel. (as i have seen them coming out of coventry walmart with shopping bags of food and hop into the fire truck). We as taxpayers should get a say-so about everything they do and where those trucks go all the time seeing as to its us paying for it. Dont you know where your car is at all times?
Realistic voter December 26, 2012 at 04:07 PM
dohn joe Those guys coming out of Wal-Mart would be Hopkins Hill not CCFD , As usual your facts are wrong
dohn joe December 26, 2012 at 05:03 PM
as usual? realistic voter, are you stalking me?


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