Central Coventry Fire District

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The high cost of government in Rhode Island is once again in the forefront, as voters in Coventry dissolve the Coventry Fire District. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay asks if this can be a spur for consolidation in our tiny state.

In a referendum  Coventry voters resoundingly refused to give any more of their property taxes to the stanch the river of red ink drowning the Coventry Fire District. They  turned thumbs down on the fire district even though it provides fire and emergency services to the most densely populated part of the community..

Coventry residents have voted to dissolve the Coventry Fire District. The financially troubled district is set to run out of money next month. Voters were asked whether to approve a tax increase to keep the district afloat. The district needed some $600,000 to stay in operation. District firefighters have already accepted cuts in overtime and health benefits.

District Board Chairman Frank Palin says he’s unsurprised voter decided to do away with the district.


Former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block says he hopes the state will pursue a more efficient approach to providing fire protection services. Block hopes to finish collecting information by the end of January for his own study

Block said he launched his examination of fire services because of the absence of a comprehensive inventory of information.

“What do we have -- What kinds of different fire protection do we have? How much do we have? How much fire stations do we have? How much gear do we have? How much does it costs us,” asked Block.  

The Central Coventry Fire district’s union says it’s still willing to negotiate even though the district has filed for bankruptcy.  

The governor’s office announced Tuesday a chapter 9 bankruptcy after months of receivership.  Head of the firefighters’ union David Gorman says the bankruptcy will hurt the town of Coventry.  “I still maintain that the governor’s bankruptcy plan will jeopardize public safety even further than we’re at today.  We’re down just 31 firefighters from 52,” said Gorman.  He added that the firefighters have also downsized from five stations to two. 

The Central Coventry firefighters union says it was surprised to learn that filing for bankruptcy was on the table. The union’s president said he thought cost cutting negotiations were moving forward.

There’s been little movement on the Central Coventry Fire District’s expected path towards bankruptcy since it was first reported last week, by channel 12.  The union has been in talks with a state receiver for the past several months.  The fire district is more than 3 million dollars in debt according to union president David Gorman. 

The Rhode Island State Police and the Attorney General have concluded their investigation into beleaguered Central Coventry fire district.  There are no pending criminal charges.

Legislation that would allow the troubled Central Coventry Fire District to collect taxes through September 1st of this year is now headed to the Governor’s desk. The Rhode Island Senate passed the bill 29 to seven last night. It would give the district a little more breathing room to come up with a plan to raise funds. But it doesn’t provide a final solution to the town’s problems. State leaders have been reluctant to provide permanent relief to the town’s fire district, which has been operating in the red since last year.

John Bender/RIPR

For several months we’ve been hearing news about the cash-strapped Central Coventry Fire District, fighting to stay open during liquidation. 

These financial woes seem like a case study for the challenges many cities and towns face, as they try to provide services through a patchwork of municipal agencies.

The Town Council has loaned the district $300,000 to stay open for a few more weeks.  The debate surrounding the fire district is complicated, so we sat down with Gary Cote, President of the Coventry Town Council, to get the details.  

Legislative leaders signaled Monday that local officials in Coventry should be the ones responsible for addressing the future of a troubled fire district in the town. A Superior Court judge has ordered the Central Coventry Fire District to close April 11th.