STATE HOUSE, APR 1 – State Senator Nick Kettle (R-Coventry, West Greenwich, Scituate, Foster) and State Representative Patricia Morgan (R-Coventry, West Warwick, Warwick) have proposed a plan to ensure central Coventry residents have access to fire and emergency service once the Central Coventry Fire District ceases operation Apr. 11.
Morgan and Kettle told a meeting called today by House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed that the best option was to ensure the safety of Coventry residents short-term, and get residents involved in the decision-making for a long-term solution.
“Our basic plan is straightforward, and will allow the town to act temporarily on behalf of fire district residents. Through legislation we will file this week, the town will be empowered to collect fire taxes that would have been owed under the last-approved budget, and then contract with public or private services for fire and emergency services for a six month period,” said Morgan.
“During this period, Coventry residents in the area formerly served by the Central Coventry Fire District can meet, and as a group identify their preferred option moving forward and organize to get it done,” she said.
She added that it was important that Coventry residents, and not groups of legislators or others meeting behind closed doors, make the critical decisions.
“The only group not represented at the Court hearing on Friday, or at this meeting at the State House today, were the people who are most affected, and who will ultimately pay the bill.
“It should not be up to a few of us to make decisions for them,” Morgan said.
Senator Kettle agreed, and emphasized that the plan put forward was only a short-term measure.
“The plan we offered has just a few moving parts, and will be simple and straightforward to implement. But it cannot be a complete solution, or one for the long-term,” said Kettle.
“Our goal was to devise a workable emergency response, and buy some time to be thoughtful about the long-term. There is no one solution here that anyone thinks is best for the people of Coventry, but they need some time to consider options and make some decisions.
“The voters in Coventry spoke loudly and clearly about the way this fire district was being managed, and the cost they were paying for its services. I suspect both issues are ones they will want to think about moving forward,” he said.
The two officials told the State House gathering this morning that a group of Coventry residents were already meeting and organizing, and preparing to have a long-term plan for fire and emergency services ready for review within 90 days.
There are other bills filed in the General Assembly that could affect fire districts throughout the state. One of them, H-5176, filed by Coventry State Rep. Scott Guthrie, would grant fire districts almost unlimited power to set budgets and tax rates for fire services. Another, H-5930 filed by State Rep. James McLaughlin of Cumberland, would set an annual cap on tax levy increases by Fire Districts, bringing them under the same requirements for town governments set in 2006, the so-called 3050 cap.