Taxpayers reject giving extra money for strapped Central Coventry Fire District
COVENTRY — Taxpayers of the Central Coventry Fire District on Monday overwhelmingly rejected a substantial budget increase that would have helped put the district back on solid financial ground, as leaders warn that without an infusion of money they will not be able to pay their bills at the end of next month.
The district has also asked the state for help from its allocation of federal COVID money.
“I think the voters have spoken loud and clear,” said Cynthia Fagan-Perry, president of the district’s board of directors, adding that she was surprised by the high turnout, but not the vote. “We can only do what the voters say. They’re the ones paying the bills.”
The tally was 920 votes to reject and 165 to approve a 15.65% budget increase. There are also 70 provisional ballots that need to be processed, but they will not affect the outcome. It is the largest turnout of district voters in nearly a decade and comes following the rejection of a proposed 8% increase at its annual meeting last fall.
“I’ve directed the treasurer to create and work on next year’s budget with a plan to keep both of our stations open, just maybe with fewer men,” Fagan-Perry said.
The treasurer, Gayle Corrigan, echoed that sentiment, saying that Central Coventry will “have to do the same, with less.”
Corrigan said district leaders are meeting with union leadership Thursday and next week will present a plan to the full board. Corrigan and Fagan-Perry stressed that they are committed to keeping both stations (the headquarters on Arnold Road and a building on Route 117) open.
“You call 911 and somebody is going to come,” Corrigan said.
Kevin McCann, president of the union that represents the district’s more than 30 firefighters, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The vote came five weeks after the district’s longtime attorney, David M. D’Agostino, sent a letter to Gov. Dan McKee, asking for $3 million from the state’s $1.13 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to help make up for COVID losses and transition to a four-platoon system.
Corrigan said the infusion of money would address short- and long-term needs. But the district also needed support from its taxpayers, and Monday’s vote was a clear message that voters did not support the tax levy needed to add a platoon, aimed at cutting down on burgeoning overtime costs.
“I needed the taxpayers to be able to make that jump in tax revenue,” Corrigan said. “Even if we had gotten money from the state, we want to make sure in three years you can sustain having an extra platoon [through additional local taxes].”
McKee was cool to the idea of a federal infusion of cash when he heard from Central Coventry in late March, saying it was “in the best interest for local voters to determine how to resolve the issue.” The governor’s spokeswoman told The Hummel Report on Tuesday that his position had not changed.
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi also reiterated what he said in early April: the district should ask the town of Coventry for part of its $10.4 million in ARPA money.
The House Finance Committee is scheduled to hear Coventry’s request Wednesday.
Corrigan has asked Coventry Rep. George Nardone to relay to the committee that if the state will not provide $3 million, it should at least consider a $1.3-million allocation.
Corrigan said that was the amount the district would have received if it did not see a significant drop in rescue runs during the height of COVID. The majority of those runs are reimbursed by insurance companies and provide the district a significant revenue stream.
Corrigan added that she would like to use the federal money to replenish the district’s $650,000 rainy-day fund, which was depleted as the financial situation deteriorated over the past year, and $650,00 for capital improvements.
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