Facing court and financial challenges, Central Coventry Fire District weighs options
COVENTRY — The Central Coventry Fire District does not have enough money to meet payroll this week, the longtime treasurer has resigned and the board is in court facing a challenge to new members elected at last week’s annual meeting.
“We’re in trouble, you know that?” board member Russell McGillivray asked Robert Civetti, who was hired Tuesday night to replace Gayle Corrigan as treasurer. The district has $28,000 in the checking account, but needs about $70,000 to meet its weekly payroll.
It’s déjà vu for residents of the fire district, which went through bankruptcy and reorganization a decade ago and has been in financial turmoil the past several years. Leaders of the district – which is its own entity separate from the town – have been unsuccessful in seeking financial help from the state and Town Council.
Budget increase rejected:Taxpayers reject giving extra money to strapped Central Coventry Fire District
And taxpayers at a raucous annual meeting last week rejected a proposed budget that would have increased the tax levy by just under 4%. The vote was 375 to 260.
Firefighters will continue to work, without pay for now, Chief Frank Brown said Wednesday morning, and all of the rescues and fire engines are staffed. The union’s president did not return a phone call.
To try and maintain cash flow, the board’s former treasurer, Corrigan, in May stopped paying the district’s electric costs for street lights and $19,000 month rental for hydrants to the Kent County Water District. The total owed is about $150,000.
Ernest Pullano, who joined the board in May, was elected president by his fellow directors Tuesday evening and said he’s trying to get up to speed on the district’s finances. “We just got the board situated and straightened out,” he said. “We inherited problems from the past and we have to work together to get a fiscally solvent solution.”
A possible solution to Central Coventry's financial problems
One option: revisiting an offer from the neighboring Coventry Fire District (also known as Anthony), which last month offered a $1 million line of credit. The Central Coventry leadership at the time was not willing to agree to conditions attached to the offer.
The Coventry Fire District’s board of directors on Wednesday night voted to offer a $400,000 tax anticipation note to Central, subject to a review by lawyers to sign off that it is legal and approved by the Central district board. Pullano said that Central Coventry has scheduled a meeting for Monday to discuss the offer.
“It’s an option,” Pullano told The Hummel Report Thursday morning. “I’m extremely appreciative of (the Coventry Fire district) and its efforts. I’m one of seven (directors) and we’ll see what happens on Monday.”
Coventry Board President Brian Testen added: “A work stoppage affects our district and I’m concerned about our residents if that happens.” The Coventry district’s financial assistance, an agreement by the union this week to extend its contract with no changes, and the influx of tax revenue should carry Central Coventry through the end of the year, he said. But Testen added that it would not solve the long-term financial issues and the same problems will likely occur next year.
Request to review ballots from board election
Meanwhile, a lawyer for state Rep. Patricia Morgan is in Superior Court, asking a judge to review ballots from last week’s board election. Christopher A. Anderson asked a judge to prevent the board from swearing anyone in until they can sift through dozens of ballots that are in question.
The district hired a company to handle the balloting, but was short of people to count the votes at the annual meeting. So several volunteers were recruited from the audience, raising questions about the integrity of the count.
A glimpse of some reporting from the archives:
RI Courts: Judge Stern orders Central Coventry Fire District liquidated
R.I. moves to take over cash-strapped Central Coventry Fire District
Central Coventry Fire District files petition in federal bankruptcy court
Asked Tuesday whether he was concerned that any of the board’s actions that night might be void if ballots reviewed by the court result in new board members being seated, Pullano said: “The judge ruled last week that the board would stay the same. The board members that are here, I was here prior to the annual elections, we’re still a legal functioning board.
“So I don’t have any concerns personally moving forward. Right now we have a fiscal crisis, we have a situation that has to be addressed and the board that’s sitting needs to address it so we can get through this crisis and work our way out to the other side of the gate, so to speak.”
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