COVENTRY— Although some objected to the bill, the Senate voted 29-7 last Thursday to approve bill 2013-H 5176A, which will allow the Central Coventry Fire District to remain operational under the previous year’s budget for the time being.
The bill, sponsored by Representatives Scott Guthrie (District 28—Coventry), Lisa Tomasso (District 29—Coventry, West Greenwich) and Patricia Serpa (District 27—West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) will give the fire district time to develop a new budget and new tax rates and to collect taxes by Sept. 1.
Representative Guthrie testified during a previous meeting that the bill would allow a tiered tax rate based on those used in other cities and towns. Also, the bill calls for a yearly audit of the district’s account to ensure that no further debt is accumulated.
The most important aspect of the bill, Guthrie said, is one that says if a budget does not pass, the district may refer back to their previous year’s budget.
“This bill will give the Central Coventry Fire District a little more time to work out its financial difficulties and, most importantly, will ensure that residents of the district can continue to receive the kind of fire and rescue protection they have come to depend on,” he said.
The district still remains under the supervision of Superior Court Judge Brian Stern and Special Master Richard Land, and if no resolution can be drawn up by Sept. 1 the district may still face liquidation.
Land explained that if Governor Lincoln Chafee signs the bill into effect, he’ll ensure that tax bills are issued and elections are held in the near future.
“This bill, if approved, will allow me to get through this fiscal year and propose a new budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year,” he added.
President of the Central Coventry Firefighters Union David Gorman explained this bill is a good step in the right direction for the district.
“We’re happy we’ll be able to go back to the levy, but there’s still a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
He said he was not entirely sure how much in taxes would be collected if the bill is approved, but offered, “I think it’s shy of almost $1 million.”
Because he is familiar with the district’s budget, fire contract and operating expenses, Land said he has been working on a new budget that he said he’d “expect to be able to talk to people about before September.”
Guthrie said Representative Patricia Morgan (District 26—Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) is working alongside the Coventry Citizens Taskforce to brain-storm plans for the future of the district.
“I’ve talked with the co-chairs of the taskforce and they want to keep moving forward and try and re-build and restructure things,” he added.
Representative Morgan previously explained that the taskforce has been hard at work creating a new charter and electing a new board of directors for the district.
Although the district may see some additional revenue if the governor signs the bill into order, Gorman said all stations that have been closed will remain so.
At the end of March, three of the five Central Coventry fire stations — Hill Farm Road, Station Street and Main Street — were closed to reduce spending.
“The plan is to keep all the current closed stations closed down,” he said. “I don’t foresee them opening in the future.”