COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) – With 107 signatures in hand, a group of residents of the Coventry Fire District delivered signatures to a department official Tuesday, asking for a special meeting to recall board chairman Frank Palin.
Roland Gamelin – a former deputy chief at the Coventry Fire District – was among those who delivered the signatures, asking that the special meeting be held within 25 days. He called Palin’s actions since he took the volunteer position in January “irresponsible.”
“I don’t know if he’s trying to get into the Guinness book of records, but he’s managed to bring it to the brink of bankruptcy in six months,” Gamelin said. “He’s incompetent as a board member. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
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Gamelin said Palin never did his homework before leading the charge to slash the district’s budget by 15 percent and lowered taxes at a December financial meeting. He said the board should have examined ways to save money first, including reducing overtime by restructuring firefighter schedules, before making budget cuts.
“At the end of 2016 if we made enough cuts to run this where we can lower the tax rate then let’s do it,” Gamelin said. “But don’t jump the gun here and lower the tax rate then find out later that you made a huge mistake on it.”
Last month, voters rejected a referendum to increase taxes in order to bring in more revenue. They also voted to dissolve the district. Gamelin said voters don’t understand the consequences of closing a district.
“The rational thing to do is get your house in order and then go to a town-wide fire department,” he said.
Shuttering a fire district would take approval from the General Assembly.
Palin said the district was already mired in financial ruin before the December budget meeting.
“You’ve got the old guard, the old cronies have gotten together, they are very upset that they’ve lost control of their fiefdom,” Palin said. “They don’t like what we’re doing; we’re setting up transparency, we’re showing everything that is going on, the good the bad and the ugly and there is a lot of ugly.”
Palin admitted it may have been premature to cut the budget in December but it mattered little because there was no appetite by taxpayers for an increase in taxes, and the district was already on track to insolvency.
He agrees with Gamelin that the district system in Coventry needs to end and a town-wide department should be put in place.
“I have a message for my fan club there: Why don’t you spend as much time working with the town working with the district to make an orderly transition?” Palin said. “We have to have some kind of transition to keep the people safe.”
Gamelin said the town would likely not be interested in absorbing the district when it’s financially struggling.
“Would you want to buy a business that is running in red ink and is totally mismanaged? I think not,” said Gamelin.
Coventry Fire District Tax Collector Robert Catalfamo accepted the signatures from Gamelin and former State Representatives Scott Guthrie, D-Coventry. He said they would likely have to check the names to make sure they are signed by residents of the district.