On Tuesday afternoon, Central Coventry Fire officials called a press conference at its Arnold Road station alerting the media to the fact that the district may soon be forced to file for receivership.
At the October 1 annual tax meeting, taxpayers voted to table the passing of the 2012-2013 budget, which halted the distribution of tax bills to residents of the district.
On October 3, Interim Chief Andrew Baynes requested that Centreville Bank extend the district's tax anticipation borrowing to cover financial obligations until a tax rate and budget is decided and new tax amounts can be billed and collected. Not only was Baynes turned down for additional borrowing, but the district's existing line of credit was seized - funding that would have been used to pay employees for several more weeks. CCFD employees received their last paychecks on Friday, Oct. 5 and as of that date, the district is out of money to continue issuing paychecks.
"We are completely out of funds," said Baynes. "My job from here on out is to make sure that I can maintain fuel in the trucks, keep them populated somehow and keep the phone lines open. If we have lights, that would be a luxury. Everything else is a toss up."
Baynes went on to explain that pay for the staff is out of the question under the current financial conditions. Without being able to collect taxes, the district will not have reliable funding coming in to cover the $60,000 per week bill for its 52 employees.
"This is disastrous news and a very dangerous situation" he continued. "I don't transmit this with any good feelings but I need to keep the trucks on the road."
Baynes went on to explain that since late last week he has been attempting to reach out to various agencies to request any possible assistance including the town manager, town council president and police chief (who is also the town's EMA manager), Congressman Jim Langevin, Senator Jack Reed and Richard Licht, director of Rhode Island’s Department of Administration but has yet to hear back.
Central Coventry Fire Board Vice President Joe Bonn was also present on Tuesday and explained that everything possible is being done to avoid filing for receivership, and that the safety of residents is the district's main concern. The collection of back taxes is an option that officials are looking into, but it will not cover all of the district's costs.
"First and foremost is the public, which is paramount." said Bonn. "On the financial end, the chief has been working diligently and we're trying to rectify the situation."
Captain David Gorman will be meeting with union members at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Depending on the outcome of the meeting, staffing may be halted as of this Friday.
"We've called an emergency union meeting for this afternoon to inform the members of what's going on and vote on if we show up to work on Friday," said Gorman. "We will have a candid discussion about the pros and cons and make a decision."
Even if firefighters agreed to continue working without pay, a portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act may forbid the staff members to volunteer at a entity where they are employed.
The changes will affect five fire stations within the district's 28.8 square miles of coverage area. A decision regarding filing for receivership will be made by Thursday.
"We're delving into uncharted territory right now that I've never been in," said Baynes. "This is an unfortunate fiscal reality that we all have to deal with."
Check back with Coventry Patch for breaking coverage after the union members meet later this afternoon.