State tells Coventry officials fire districts are their responsibility

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Department of Revenue has sent a letter to Coventry town officials, telling them they are responsible for ensuring the “safety and well-being” of the residents in the financially troubled Coventry Fire District.

On Tuesday David Sullivan – the revenue department’s acting director – wrote the town that the state is aware of the financial problems the fire district is facing after residents voted to dissolve it rather than agree to a supplemental tax increase.

“[The] Department of Revenue is operating under the premise that the Town of Coventry will assume responsibility for the safety and well-being of its residents,” Sullivan wrote in the letter. “We fully expect the Town to be taking the necessary steps to ensure that it will be able to provide fire protection services to the area covered by the Coventry Fire District in the event that the District suspends its operations.”

On June 17 voters rejected a supplemental tax increase of $600,000 to keep the Coventry Fire District afloat in the short term, and called for the district to be dismantled. Last week the district was unable to completely meet their payroll obligations. It is one of four independent fire districts that serve the town.

In a statement Governor Gina Raimondo said in part “The longer local leaders wait to make these difficult choices, the harder the problems will be to solve.”

“This is an opportunity for local leaders in Coventry – and across the state – to look at best practices for streamlining services, enhancing accountability, and delivering better value to taxpayers,” said Raimondo.

In the letter Sullivan said his department “stands ready” to assist the town under the Fiscal Stability Act, but reminded officials that since fire departments are a municipal responsibility, “any and all costs incurred pursuant to the state’s involvement under the Fiscal Stability Act become obligations that must be paid by the locality.”

Sullivan said the town must formally engage the state to trigger the act.

“Given the apparent imminence of the fire districts financial problems, I would suggest that you, and/or the Town Manager, contact me immediately to discuss these matters,” he wrote.

The Coventry Fire District is meeting Tuesday night at 6:30 at Club Jogues at 184 Boston St.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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