House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed offered skeptical notes in response to requests Monday for state help to preserve the Central Coventry Fire District.
Superior Court Judge Brian Stern last week ordered the district to close April 11. The move came after voters in the district rejected a proposed tax increase.
An informal Statehouse meeting included warnings about how a seven-minute increase in response times from other Coventry fire districts is a matter of life or death from heart attack victims. Some of the lawmakers who represent the town expressed related public safety concerns. The chief of one of Coventry's other fire districts said creating a single fire department is the logical answer to the funding crunch.
After leaving the meeting not long before its conclusion, Paiva Weed said that discussing "one fire district in a vacuum makes no sense" because "we have done nothing but talk about the necessity to collaborate and merge services between 39 cities and towns."
Fox cited a need for modernizing Coventry's firefighting structure, pointing to how the Coventry Central district's responsibilities include street lights. The speaker told reporters he's wary of state involvement in the district's plight:
“I’m skeptical, absolutely, absolutely – because a lot of self-inflicted problems and that gets to the fact-finding; why should it become a state’s interest? Is there a solution that could be done literally within the four corners of that community?”
Fox said legislative leaders will continue gathering information about the embattled fire district. The Central Coventry Fire District, which has been operating in default since last year, serves about 18,000 residents.
In related news, a bill sponsored by Representative Scott Guthrie (D-Coventry) "would provide fire districts with the power to adopt tax classification rates, adopt supplemental taxes and operate under a previous fiscal year's budget under certain circumstances." It's scheduled to be examined during a House Finance Committee hearing Wednesday.