House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan Proposes Amendment to Central Coventry Fire District Charter
Changes were Approved by 80% of District Voters at Annual Meeting
STATE HOUSE -- Before members of the House Committee on Municipal Government, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) testified at a hearing, on H-5740, entitled “An Amendment of the Incorporation of the Central Coventry Fire District”.
H-5740 is needed to incorporate changes into CCFD's Charter. These changes were approved by over 97% of the voters at the district's September Annual Budget meeting.
Representative Patricia Morgan said, “After 6 long years of struggle, the Central Coventry Fire District has finally paid off its debt, downsized its spending and righted their fiscal ship. These charter changes are precautions that have been approved by the Board of Directors, as well as the people of the District to ensure that bankruptcy never happens again. During its annual meeting on September 19, 2017, over 97% of the voters approved these important changes to their charter.”
According to David D'Agostino, attorney for the CCFD Fire Board of Directors, “This is designed to empower the taxpayers to have an active role in the district's financial decisions. In addition, these changes will bring accountability between board members and citizens. We support avoiding conflicts of interest by incorporating provisions of the RI Code of Ethics into our charter.”
Board Member, Cindy Fagan, also testified on H-5740 and said, “These changes will stop previous issues that led to bankruptcy. Board members will be able to be recalled by taxpayers. We need the one year separation between being an active firefighter and being a board member to decrease the union ties and discourage conflicts of interest during contract negotiations. Having firefighters sit on both sides of the table led to financial abuse.”
Former Vice chair, Marie Baker added, “In the past, 95% of the town did not even know there was an annual budget meeting occurring. As a result, to get the small 25 person quorum, the board members and employees would simply call their friends and relatives to attend. This created a situation where the friends and relatives of the firefighters were, in effect, voting for their raises. The Board approved what Superior Court Judge Brian Stern described during bankruptcy proceedings as an overly generous contract. The District was rife with bad management and conflicts of interest. The fire chief without much, if any controls, drove the district into bankruptcy by buying unnecessary equipment and loading on extra employees. The Board sought a 65% tax increase to pay for all that spending. It was so bad that when the state took over, despite some cuts, they wanted to increase taxes by 1/3.
"Most Board members are mom and pop style citizens who may have the best intentions but do not have the experience or intestinal fortitude to see through the complex bureaucracy and battle it. Since that fire chief left in 2010, we have reduced our employees from 52 to 32, our fire stations from 5 to 2, and our spending is down by $2 million annually. That's correct, every year they were spending $2 million more than was needed. Today we are still able to handle the same number of calls, which have remained consistent for the last 8 years. Analysis of data revealed, that one of those closed stations received fewer than one call each day. Another current station receives only 4 in a 24 hour period. The current staffing is more than adequate to handle the volume. And we want to keep it that way."
"To protect our district into the future, so another rogue board cannot mislead the district into exorbitant taxes and bankruptcy, we proposed common sense charter changes that include: a higher 100 person voting quorum, a 4% annual spending cap, a full time independent daily operations business manager to oversee check books, as well as operations, and a 15% debt limit. The people of Central Coventry Fire District overwhelmingly approved the changes during the annual Budget meeting. We are eager to have these approved changes incorporated into our charter."
For more information, contact:
Raina C. Smith, House Minority Office
State House Room 106
Providence, RI 02903