COVENTRY — During its monthly meeting last Wednesday, the board of the Coventry Fire District unanimously approved a 2021 budget that would reduce the tax levy by 2 percent. 

Taxpayers in the district will vote on the budget, which includes a $2.2 million tax levy, during next month’s annual meeting. 

“This year, more than any other, the taxpayers are looking for relief wherever they can find it,” said Bryan Testen, chair of the board of directors. 

According to the results of the town’s recent revaluation, the aggregate residential property values in the fire district have risen this year from $621 million to $751 million. The tax rate in 2021 would have dropped from $3.04 to $2.50 per $1,000 of valuation on a flat tax levy as a result. But with the 2 percent reduction, the rate will drop even further, to $2.45 per $1,000. 

In building its budget, Testen said that the board considered the impact that a revaluation can have on taxpayers, with some home values increasing more than others. 

“We don’t have any input into the valuations and can’t assign tax rates at an individual level,” he said. “What we can do is make a commitment to the taxpayers to not increase taxes each year, and this year we can make the commitment to reduce the overall tax levy. It may not be much on an individual tax bill, but we hope that it helps.”

The district’s current financial situation is a far cry from what it was just five years ago, when it faced debt of more than $500,000. 

That’s when Testen joined the board, and he’s been working since alongside the other members to fix the financial issues that plagued the district. 

“The board has been very diligent in managing expenses over the past four years and has been able to keep taxes flat while paying off debt,” Testen said, adding that the board is “committed to maintaining public safety while operating within a fixed budget and seeking areas to reduce costs where possible.”

Testen announced at last year’s annual meeting that the district was officially debt free.

“This year was the first year that we were operating debt free,” he said Thursday, “and because of that, we’re now in a position where, as long as we can maintain a close eye on expenses, we’re able to do all of the things that we want to do in 2021.”

Service won’t be at all affected by the decreased tax levy, Testen said. The district will maintain its existing staffing levels, with nine full-time firefighters currently employed. That’s the maximum permitted under the current union contract, but when that gets renegotiated in the coming year Testen said more positions may get added. 

Testen also anticipates being able in 2021 to do some well-overdo work to the Anthony Fire Station, which he said has “been neglected for decades.” The district will hopefully purchase a new engine, as well.

“We’re doing all of those things,” Testen said, “and we’re doing so within the existing budget.”

The proposed budget will be presented to taxpayers for a vote on Wednesday, Nov. 11, during which time voters will also elect three board members. Meeting logistics are still being planned, but will be announced shortly. 

 kgravelle@ricentral.com

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