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Coventry Citizens Group: Don't Put Fire District Under State Control

Lawmakers are considering putting the Central Coventry Fire District under state control after the district went bankrupt.

File photo.
File photo.
A Coventry citizens group said lawmakers shouldn't put the Central Coventry Fire District under state control.

Earlier this year, a judge ordered the liquidation of the fire district after it went bankrupt. The order mandates that the district close by May 16. Layoffs notices have already been sent to the district's 44 firefighters and four administrators.

A Senate committee earlier this month approved a bill that would establish a budget commission to save the district, according to WJAR-TV.

The Coventry Citizen’s Taskforce, however, said state control isn't the answer. Below is a news release from the taskforce.

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The Coventry Citizen’s Taskforce, a group working to fix the beleaguered Central Coventry Fire District board (CCFD) today warned legislators of the limitations of placing fire districts under state control.

Two bills currently working their way through the General Assembly, S2778 and H7994, would permit fire districts to be placed under state management through the FSA, or Financial Stability Act, which previously applied only to cities and towns.

Fred Gralinski, former chairman of the Taskforce, said the problems facing most fire districts in Rhode Island were “not simply management issues, but structural issues that have to be dealt with.

“Poor management was certainly an issue with the CCFD, but the larger problems were structural.

“Because of quickly escalating costs related to purchase of unneeded equipment and an overly-generous union contract, the CCFD was forced to borrow heavily and significantly increase taxes just to stay even. In this kind of situation, unless changes are made in personnel practices, benefits, and purchasing practices, not a whole lot of progress can be made,” Gralinski said.

“My fear is that, as happened in Woonsocket, the Budget Commission will simply continue to penalize taxpayers and avoid coming to grips with the things that are driving costs higher.

“But let’s be real about what is happening in Central Coventry in particular. All the debate is being fueled over the fact that with liquidation, a union contract will be deemed null and void. The union contract in CCFD, negotiated by a Board beholden to the firefighters union, gave away the store. This is mostly about a union trying to protect its turf.

“In a town in which 13% of the residents receive social security and 29% of the students receive subsidized lunches, increased staffing requirements caused overtime to nearly double and payments for daily clothing, sick, personal and vacation days, incentive pay, holiday pay, out-of-rank pay, collateral pay, longevity bonuses and a post-employment savings plan created a 37% increase in compensation in the last three years.

“There is not a city or town in Rhode Island, or a fire district, that can long survive financially when compensation is increasing at a 30% pace, and tax increases of 20-30% become commonplace,” said Gralinski.

“What the legislation ought to focus on is not keeping the CCFD above water in its current near-terminal condition, but in legislating the kinds of things that can solve the problem. Require annual financial audits. Place a 4% tax levy ceiling in place. Prohibit supplementary taxes. And ensure that fire district boards are not controlled by small groups representing big special interests.

“If this legislation passes, and given the track record of state Budget Commissions in the past, I predict the result will be higher taxes and little courageous action to really fix the problems. Months and years from now it will be far more than Central Coventry Fire District the state will have to deal with,” Gralinski said.

Toxic Avenger April 27, 2014 at 10:56 PM
Speaking of forensic audits, where can we find hard numbers regarding the 3 years in question. Oh that's right just as the budget is a guideline an audit was not needed!
Gem101 April 28, 2014 at 09:37 AM
With all this screaming the sky is falling maybe we should have asked so serious questions back when they were asking for the merge. I was at that meeting and not one person asked about DEBT. What debt or surplus did Harris have at the time as well as Washington. Not one person asked the chairwoman any questions with regards to finances of any three districts. A lesson learned for the future. Maybe if these numbers were known at that time this squabbling wouldn't be taking place, so here is a question I have. We should require professionals that know finance like the major cities have. We have been a bedroom community too long as to the square milage of the town. People need to know that with these types of professionals maybe it would be a different situation in town. Someone with knowledge in contract negotiations, Grant writing,etc. We need these people to look at the impact to the taxpayer and will not be afraid to say no when it's not in our best interest. I know it's too late at this juncture but, it's something we need to take serious for the future. If you pay professionals for their expertise and not continue to elect people that have little experience in these matters like the school department, Town council, and why elect a professional Town manager to report to elected non professionals to report to. He has the authority to say the budget is not correct or is unfunded because that is why we hired him. Look at what happened when we let the manager go by the town council vote and where is he now in upstate NY making twice the money.WE NEED PROFESSIONALS TO RUN OUR FIRE DEPARTMENT AS ONE FIRE DEPARTMENT just like the Police department. There have been many good natured people who have giving their time to be elected to these boards and some have done a very good job but the time now is to recognize that the time has come to move forward with the right people in place to RUN our town. Again my intent is not to embarrass anyone because everyone has a right to your opinion as well as myself.
Annalyn Chaplin April 28, 2014 at 11:18 AM
RT, Mr. Land should have the answers to all of the financial questions asked with regard to CCFD. He was hired to takeover the checkbook and pay the bills, apparently he has the complete financial history of CCFD, after all, he is the expert in these matters. Shouldn't questions be directed to him at this point? Gem, you are right, one town, one fire department; makes perfect sense!
Toxic Avenger May 01, 2014 at 08:49 PM
Where's the State Police Report???????????
Realistic voter May 01, 2014 at 11:14 PM
Nothing there to report, Just tax collector's for the town and district that didn't do they're jobs!

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