Employees, board members and taxpayers of the Coventry (Anthony) Fire District gathered at Club Jogues on Tuesday night for the district's annual meeting.
District taxpayers that were present voted unanimously to approve the 2012-2013 Operating Budget totaling $2,530,820, which includes personnel and operations costs. A tax rate of 28 cents per each $100 of residential property in the district and a special tax levy on industrial and other commercial properties at a rate not to exceed 53 cents per $100 as determined by the tax assessors were approved as well.
Three board members, Lou Cote, Peter Pankowicz and James Beckman, were also re-elected to two-year terms in their positions.
At the start of the meeting, Chief Paul Labbadia presented his annual report that broke down the budget into detailed line items (see attached presentation) and reported the district's call history for the year to date. The district serves Anthony Village, the most densely populated area of Coventry per capita, with more than 17,000 people in a service area of 5.5 square miles. At the time of the report, the district had completed 2,135 of the 5,388 runs for the Town of Coventry as a whole and expects about 120 more before the year ends. 1,740 of these runs were in response to rescue calls and the remaining 395 were for fire calls.
Chief Labbadia went on to explain that the district's 2011-2012 budget currently has a deficit of $307,101, caused by various factors including two long-term injuries, extra staffing during Hurricane Sandy and winter storms, changes in pension plan and medical coverage, $325,448.69 in 2012 back taxes and $87,514.16 in prior years back taxes. A resolution was later passed to abate $3,057.83 from the 2012 tax roll for noncollectable taxes generated from companies that have gone out of business.
Tax Collector Jeanne Lukowicz presented her report as of Nov. 30, 2012, stating that $1,775,511.28 in taxes had been collected during the year, $355,819.29 in back taxes and $96,491.20 in interest on back taxes, totaling $2,227,821.77. The report also showed a total of $412,963.16 in uncollected taxes.
Treasurer Tom Lacolle (former CCFD Treasurer) gave his report which showed the assets and liabilities of the district as of Nov. 30, 2012 as well as the results of operations (revenue and expenditures). This report showed expenditures of $2,141,752 for personnel and $551,368 for operations, totaling $2,693,120 for the fiscal year ending on Nov. 30. It also presented $2,586,600 in total receipts which included taxes collected, interest on taxes, interest on bank balances, rescue recovery and fire prevention. A deficit of $106,520 was listed as well. (See attached images for the complete report.)
Resident Scott Duckworth inquired as to whether or not the Coventry Fire District has the authority to utilize multi-tiered taxation after Monday's Central Coventry Fire District Special Master meeting pointed out that fire districts cannot do so unless its charter specifies otherwise.
Attorney Arthur Capaldi explained that the district's actions would have to be challenged for consequences to come about, however he does feel that the district should move forward with requesting a charter change to allow for tiered taxation - a sentiment that Chief Labbadia agreed with.
Board President Gary Cote stated that the board has reviewed the district's records dating back to 1986 and in his interpretation of the charter, the district has the authority to tax the same way as the Town of Coventry, which taxes on a three-tiered system.
"This Board of Directors has done nothing different from what the district has done as far back as our records go," said Cote. "We always strive to provide the best service that the taxpayers' money can buy and I think we've been successful in doing that. An emergency response to a commercial property is much bigger and widespread than a residential property. They require additional services and I think we're justified to require additional taxes."
Voting members of the gallery approved 13 resolutions for the upcoming budget year involving hydrant installation, fire lane designation, tax freezes, insurance and health care billing, ladder truck lease continuance and more. (See attached images for the complete list of resolutions.) A 14th resolution was proposed by taxpayer Dave Gorman and seconded by Michael Stevens, empowering the Coventry Fire District to hire an outside firm to perform a financial audit to be presented at the next Annual Meeting. 22 taxpayers voted in favor of the motion and 12 were opposed.
Initially, Gorman's motion proposed a $15,000 increase to the 2012-2013 budget, requiring a one cent tax increase to cover the cost of the audit and its advertising costs, however it was amended to reflect no tax increase after Chief Labbadia assured voters that the cost would be taken from the district's deficit line to fund the audit. As a result of much discussion, the same or similar resolution may be proposed each year going forward or a charter amendment may be considered to make an annual audit a district requirement.
"I feel that we absolutely need this," said Gorman. "Even a one cent tax increase is a very small price to pay to ensure that our books are clear."