COVENTRY — Officials with the Central Coventry Fire District are proud to announce they are looking at another year of debt-free operation for 2018 and told voters they are even expecting a $100,000 surplus for 2017.
Residents approved the 2018 fiscal year budget on Monday, Sept. 18 at Coventry High School, with 71 residents in favor and 18 opposed.
Residents also cast their ballots for candidates running for the two open positions on the CCFD Board of Directors. Candidates included Jane Deptula, Christine Spagnoli, Matthew Bacon, Ronald Flynn and Daniel Lantz Jr. Lantz and Flynn took home 175 and 192 votes, respectively, with Deptula raking in 85 votes and Bacon with 82. The board also said goodbye to Maureen Jendzejec, who served for the last four years and decided not to run for re-election. Lantz has served on the board for four years and was elected for another three-year term.
Hopkins Hill and CCFD Chief Frank Brown provided an update on the progress made in the time he has been a part-time leader of the district.
“In the short period I’ve been here, it’s been a total focus on moving the fire district forward operationally,” Brown said. “It’s been all about moving forward and not reliving the past and it’s a testament to all those involved in the operation of the district.”
They have hired six new firefighters as of January of this year and have four more starting the fire academy this week.
District manager Gayle Corrigan presented a look at the budgets for both the last fiscal year and the upcoming 2018 fiscal year. During the 2014 audit, the district had a total of $5.4 million in receivership claims, or money being paid out, and in the 2016 audit the same line item was reduced to only $77,000. In 2014 the district had a negative fund balance and deficit of about $4 million, and in 2016 they realized a surplus of $558,114. They brought in 10 new employees since 2017, which resulted in $109,644 needed for new gear, radios and hoses. In 2017 they also purchased a new pumper/firetruck for $423,000, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses (SCBA) for $48,500 and a new pontoon boat for Johnson’s Pond for $8,500. The previous boat had sunken twice. Corrigan also highlighted that all of the new equipment was purchased without having to take on any debt.
“We have no interest payments, and we made sure we had the money before we made the purchase,” she explained Monday night.
“We have paid off debt and have continued upgrading equipment,” said CCFD BOD Chairman Fred Gralinski, who added the equipment upgrades will result in increased safety for residents.
“We just purchased a used fire truck today as our backup because all our equipment was so bad,” he explained. “We found a nice, low-mileage unit from Westerly. We’re getting good equipment to back up our good people and we’re putting the package together maintaining safety and building everything back up. The employees, the firefighters, the board, everybody -- we’re becoming more efficient and doing our best to safeguard and respect our money and give the best possible service while showing you we can do it better than we were doing it before.”
Revenues generated through rescue run recovery efforts in 2017 were estimated to be around $675,000, but the district actually brought in $944,150. The district also saw another $185,891 in revenue for the sale of the Hill Farm Road Station. For FY18 they are anticipating $251,000 from the sale of the Harris Station, money from which will likely be used to purchase a new rescue. Other items purchased for 2018 include a new stretcher, airlocks, and thermal cameras.
They have slated a predicted $350,000 in estimated overtime for fiscal year 18, but Corrigan said she expects the amount to be less because they have filled some vacancies.
In 2017 the district had a 92 percent tax collection rate. Officials anticipate 91.5 percent this year and note there is $522,000 in outstanding taxes as of Aug. 31, 2017. The tax levy, as approved by the voters, will decrease from $2.49 per $1,000 for residential properties to $2.06 for residential, $3.08 for commercial and $2.06 for tangibles.
“Water and electric have gone up significantly, and pension costs are a little unnerving,” said Gralinski. “We’re at 79 percent funded.”
The CCFD approved a number of charter changes at last year’s annual meeting which passed through the House but not the Senate. Because they did not pass the entire General Assembly, Gralinkski said the changes were made in the district’s by laws instead.
“They have to go through both [houses] to become law, so in light of that and in keeping with the efforts of the board to restore some fiscal control to the voters, what we did was include the proposed charter changes in the by laws because those don’t have to go through the General Assembly,” said attorney Dave D’Agostino.
The changes include increasing the required number of voters in attendance for a quorum to 100, a constraint disallowing the board or voters to approve an increase of more than four percent above the prior year’s budget, to do so now will require an all-day referendum. A recall provision was also added to remove members of the board.
Member Cindy Fagan-Perry suggested tabling the vote on the by law changes.
“We just got these this afternoon and they’re not totally like the charter changes and I don’t think they are coinciding in some areas. There are some differences and I think we should have a special meeting.”
Gralinski opted to put the matter out to the residents where the changes passed on a verbal vote.
In total about 262 residents voted for the board of directors positions, with about 89 staying until the end of the meeting to vote on the actual budget. This is historically less than the turnout in past years, but Gralinksi noted this year was not filled with as much controversy as those in the past.
Coventry Town Councilor Debra Bacon, a voter in the district, said that the time written on the agenda for the event was “misleading” for voters, as it noted that voting for the board of directors began at 5:30 with a call to order for the meeting at 7 p.m.
“If someone thought they had to vote by 5:30 that’s a little ambiguous,” Bacon pointed out before the event.
She also noted that a budget was presented to the BOD on Sept. 7 with a revised version sent on Sept. 14, and no additional meeting was held to present the revised budget to the taxpayers. She said that if the board did not vote to approve the budget and tax rate, then it should not be acceptable to bring to the voters.
“I think they’re playing fast and loose with the charter,” Bacon said.
“The budget was not voted on,” said Attorney Dave D’Agostino. “But even if it was and it had been changed their vote is meaningless because what counts is what the people vote.”
He said that the voting on board members would be allowed to continue until the meeting was adjourned, meaning that no voters were disenfranchised because of the posted time.
“This was the people’s meeting,” said Gralinksi, adding that the board did review the budget beforehand. “Given the situation we were in two years ago we feel proud of what we’ve accomplished.”