Local Voters Throw Water on Higher Taxes Sought by Firefighters Union, State Lawmakers


PROVIDENCE, R.I.—In a battle of political wills in Rhode Island, local voters so far have held their ground against efforts by union leaders and state officials to make them pay more for fire and rescue services.

State lawmakers and local activists who side with the voters, however, see the situation as an ongoing threat to self-government.

“The people have rejected higher taxes over and over again because they want a new way of doing business,” state Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, says.

It started in 2006, when Central Coventry Fire District formed after four of the Rhode Island town’s seven smaller fire divisions voted to merge. Those four operations already had problems, and the new fire district’s finances were not in good order. They continued to spiral out of control as the district spent more than it was taking in.

Instead of curtailing expenses, the Central Coventry Fire District’s board of directors hired more firefighters and leased a new ladder truck.

The Coventry board also embraced a new collective bargaining agreement with the International Association of Firefighters Local 3372 that increased firefighters’ pay and benefits.

The situation had reached crisis proportions by October 2011. Losses amounted to $637,000, according to the board’s income statement. Within two …read more