Coventry meeting tonight for fire department solutions

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Another meeting is set for Tuesday night in Coventry, as the town tries to find ideas to save the financially-troubled fire district.

Town officials will meet at 7 p.m. at Feinstein Middle School on Foster Drive.

The district faces a deficit of nearly $1 million. Earlier this month, residents voted to dissolve the district, rather than increase taxes to pay for it.

Second call for suggestions

Town fire board members are all ears on possible solutions for cutting costs to keep the district. Monday before last, board members took suggestions for saving money from residents at a meeting at Club Jogues.

That meeting didn’t end in any major decisions, but led to the meeting set for tonight.

One board member, John D’Onofrio, told Eyewitness News he believes the town referendum — where the voice of the people called for dissolving the fire district — was skewed by misinformation.

“It wasn’t clear that it was a legal vote, because the board didn’t vote to hold the all-day referendum,” D’Onofrio said last week. “I think we probably need to do a re-do, with better information, and that may be the outcome” of tonight’s meeting, he said.

Another member of the board, John Cook, blamed the board’s chair for the overall financial issues. “As a board member and a taxpayer, I still believe that Mr. [Frank] Palin made some poor choices, bringing this district to bankruptcy, or on the brink of bankruptcy,” he said last week.

Cook said Palin cut $400,000 from the fire budget.

At the June 22 meeting, Palin appealed to the town council: “I personally do not believe we can save the district without a massive influx of cash this year, and in the future.”

Council member Kerry McGee responded, “We did not create this situation…. If we have to be part of fixing it, we will. We don’t want the taxpayers to have to shoulder the problem, but we want to make sure that they take responsibility for their actions, because this is not the town’s responsibility.”

Coventry’s fire chief told Eyewitness News he’s making sure residents will have fire protection if the district is dissolved, but if the conflict continues to drag on, it could potentially put a burden on area fire departments.