Coventry residents vote to dissolve fire district

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Voters in Coventry have decided to close down one of the town’s financially troubled fire districts.

Residents voted on a referendum to either approve a supplemental tax increase to keep the Coventry Fire District – also known as the Anthony Fire District – afloat, or to dissolve it.

The ballot had two questions. The first asked whether to approve a supplemental tax increase of $600,000, to which 427 people voted yes and 553 voted no.

The second question asked whether the district should be dissolved “for the inability to meet its financial obligations.” 534 residents voted in favor of that, while 399 voted against.

Now that voters have approved the second question, the town’s fire board has to act on dissolving the district, and the move then has to be approved by the General Assembly.

If that occurs, the Coventry Fire District would close at the end of the year.

District board chairman Frank Palin believes he won’t be able to make payroll for his firefighters by mid-July, and said he’s considering having them work without pay if money runs out.

Sample Coventry Fire District ballot (Perry Russom/WPRI-TV)
Sample Coventry Fire District ballot (Perry Russom/WPRI-TV)

Prior to the vote, Palin said if voters don’t approve raising property taxes by 25 percent, they’ll run out of money to operate.

“It’s necessary for the district. It has taken place after decades of deficits. and we need to make good because I don’t want to see this district without a fire department,” he said.

Firefighters have already agreed to union concessions; like cutting overtime, eliminating their clothing allowance, and adjustments to medical insurance.

If the tax increase goes through, it would cost the owner of a $200,000 property, about $155 more this year.

Last week, the board revealed it’s in serious financial trouble after years of mismanagement and deficit spending. Earlier this year, the board fired Chief Paul Labbadia after a Target 12 investigation raised serious questions of accountability.

The district has the highest tax rate of any fire district in the state.

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