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CCFD Public Meeting Sheds Light on Financial Issues

No votes were taken at the meeting that served as an informational forum for taxpayers.

 

Hundreds of Central Coventry Fire District residents joined employees, board members and Special Master Richard Land at Monday night's public meeting held at Coventry High School.

Land explained to the crowd that up until last week, he had intended on presenting budgetary information to be voted on by taxpayers, but as the much-anticipated meeting drew near, he decided that presenting his findings regarding the district's financial status would be the ultimate goal of the evening.

Fire District and Personnel

Land, accompanied by Chief Andrew Baynes and advisor John Murray, worked their way through a 53-slide presentation over the course of the nearly 4-hour meeting. The presentation (attached) began with a summary of the fire district's apparatus and station locations, response time goals, and diagrams showing how response times and coverage areas would be effected if specific stations or the entire district were shut down. 

According to Land, a reduction of paid personnel would negatively affect emergency services and although the possibility of a volunteer staff does exist, the cost of insurance, shift compensation, training and outfitting volunteers would also need to be taken into consideration.

When touching upon the possibilities of closure, liquidation, merger or take-over, Land explained that it would not be practical to rely on neighboring districts for long-term coverage, and that all options would require other entities to get involved and contract/legal issues to be dealt with, making for a very long process, diminished resources and delayed emergency response. 

Finances

During the financial portion of the meeting, Land referred to the $2 million in liabilities that the district has accrued. He explained that an assessment error had been made for CCFD in 2010 regarding a Commerce Park property, assessing it at $226,867,140 -  $217,285,200 more than the Town of Coventry's assessment of $9,581,940. 

He went on to explain that the error resulted in about $800,000 in revenue that was over-budgeted for and when the district was level funded the following two years, the problem was replicated twice, leaving a deficit of more than $2 million. Included in the problem was a 100% tax collection assumption, which Land explained to be quite rare, stating that the district's historical rate is closer to 95%. 

"The error was made in the first year but was apparently not communicated well and was unfortunately carried over for two more years," said Land. "I can understand your frustration and anger about this.  I can tell you what happened and I can tell you how I think we can work through it , but I cannot speak to why a board or anybody else made a decision not to do something about it." 

When several taxpayers inquired about the accountability of the error, Land said that the issue will be looked into, but that the current focus is to be able to pass a budget to move the district forward. 

Because of the error, the fiscal 2012 tax assessment was overstated by more than $217 million for commercial property, totaling $2,375,098,468 when combining the amount with residential and tangible assessments. 

Going forward, the adjusted fiscal 2013 tax roll has been adjusted to total $2,165,1098,480. Had the error not occurred, fiscal 2012 tax rates would have been (per $1,000 value) $2.29 for residential, $4.58 for commercial and $2.29 for tangible. 

A 2012 adjusted single tier tax rate was also presented, showing rates without the over-assessment and using a single class of property that comes to $2.62 per $1,000 of value. This number reflects a 44% increase for residential and tangible taxes and a 28% decrease for commercial. (See attached Slide #36 for tax rate examples.)

Land explained that the fire district's charter has never legally allowed for multi-tiered taxation, essentially meaning that an illegal tax rate has been used up until now. Residential taxpayers who paid less than what they would have had to with the proper taxation will not be billed for the difference, but the issue of whether or not commercial property owners will be reimbursed for what they "overpaid" may have to be presented to the court in the future. 

When a resident asked if receivership proceedings would eliminate the possibility of taxpayer reimbursement, Land said that it would be a possibility, but is something that will be looked into. Also being determined is if the fire district has "errors and omissions" insurance and if its charter can be amended through legislation to legally allow for a tiered tax rate going forward.

2013 Budget Going Forward (Slide #39)

Land explained that if the preliminary fiscal 2013 budget had been approved, it would have resulted in a loss of approximately $361,000. The revised budget would show a slight surplus, but at a significantly higher revenue for taxes.

"I want you folks to understand that when we do present the budget that we're asking you to vote on - and it won't be tonight because I want you to have time to absorb this information - we're looking at a significant increase in your taxes, there's no question about it," said Land.

He also stressed that CCFD firefighters appear willing to discuss contract modifications to try and lessen the burden on taxpayers but that all parties need to be willing to sacrifice in order to resolve the problem.

"We've had two months with this information and I have demonstrated that it's not easy, that problems run deep and that every time we turn a corner, we see new problems," said Land. "The information we have right now is not necessarily perfect, but we're doing the best with what we've got and will continue to work on it."

An upcoming meeting likely to be held in February will hopefully afford Land the opportunity to present a budget to be voted on by taxpayers. The goal of an approved budget would be to get the district through the upcoming fiscal year and allow for a long-term plan to be devised.

"I want to use the right process to do this because I don't want you to make this decision in a vacuum," said Land as he concluded the meeting. "We will provide more information in the coming weeks as we continue to fine tune this and I think by the next meeting we will have a budget for you to consider."

jaydenleigh3124 December 18, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Central Coventry is in financial disaster.We do not need any additional expense (gas!!) and/ or wear and tear on our Fire Engines which get approximately 5 miles or so per gallon . Residents are already facing tough times trying to control their budget as it is. Most towns would never allow this or any other wasteful spending. Why cant we have a Santa outside of the Arnold road station which is a highly traveled road, allowing Santa to take donations to help needy families affected by the hard economic times we are currently facing, instead of the wasteful spending being incurred by people who seem to be oblivious to the hardships of others.
jaydenleigh3124 December 18, 2012 at 07:41 PM
The scare tactics from CCFD needs to stop!! Misinformation of higher insurance costs and meetings being postponed or scheduled for a Monday night Patriots football night do not go unnoticed!! We need to dissolve this union which seems to be more focused on money that is not there than serving the public. We need to go back to the basics of what we can afford and base it around that budget. Right now we have firefighters who get paid a salary much like city firefighter's. We are a small town community that should operate with a basic non unionized fire department that is affordable by the people much like our other districts who work just fine that way. If our current firefighter's do not agree, and as far as I'm concerned they knew exactly what they were doing with the budget by rewarding themselves with more than they should have been, we need to dissolve this current corporation like they do in the private sector and rehire non union that are willing to be paid according to the budget which the taxpayer's are able to afford. As far as people's insurance increasing, these firehouses will only be temporarily unmanned because of the high unemployment rate and the long list of people waiting to be employed as firefighters who will be more than willing to be paid what the taxpayer can afford. The tax payers will once again be in control of this district and not controlled by over rewarding union firefighters thinking only of themselves and not what the community can afford. .
yada yada December 18, 2012 at 09:24 PM
The fact of the matter is CCFD..Screwed up. Don't care who is to blame. Dissolve it. Merge it into fiscally responsible depts and move on. Majority of the employees will keep there jobs. Services won't be interrupted. Contracts renegotiated. Some sort of dept. will be there. . Insurance doesn't go up. Taxes don't go up. Who cares what letters are on the trucks and coats. They are still firefighters working in the trade they were trained for. Tough choices. Should have made better ones in the beginning.
yada yada December 18, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Need some facts. Is it true that the town of Coventry owes CCFD the 700,000 in taxes for some property they purchased . Times three years. Is it SOP for the town to pay taxes to the depts. on property within each depts. territory?
jaydenleigh3124 December 19, 2012 at 07:37 PM
The state or town itself will never leave any station unmanned. There are more than enough unemployed people to fill those positions. There's no excuse to reward bad behavior on the part of CCFD. Insurance companies cannot just assume those positions will not be filled. It's a joke to justify doubling fire taxes under the false pretense of insurance increases. The truth of the matter is that more than likely it will never happen. Those stations will be remanned immediately under state law. Those firefighters who do not agree with the new circumstances will be replaced with new firefighters willing to cooperate with the new budget. There's a list a mile long of firefighters waiting to become fireman.

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