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Coventry Fire District can’t make payroll, expected to vote on layoffs

[anvplayer video=”643476″ /] COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) – The financially troubled Coventry Fire District is once again forecasting that it won’t be able to make payroll.

In a letter sent to town officials, Fire District Board Chairman Frank Palin wrote that the district won’t be able to make payroll for its firefighters on September 4th.

“I sadly inform you that the district’s financial position may force us to layoff [sic] all our firefighters because we will be unable to pay them,” Palin wrote.

It’s not the first time the district has had problems paying the firefighters who work there; in July, cash flow problems resulted in firefighters being paid late.

“We are out of money,” Palin said in an interview Sunday. “We’re tapped out.” The district levies fire taxes from the 9,000 residents who live there, but Palin says it’s not enough to cover costs and the district has been at a deficit for years.

David Gorman, President of the Coventry Professional Firefighters Union, says he believes Palin’s layoff plan is political.

“We believe it’s a threat on his part,” Gorman said. “He’s the root cause of the collapse of the district.”

“If the union negotiated from the beginning, I wouldn’t have a problem,” Palin said.

Gorman says the union has offered a number of concessions to the board including the elimination of overtime and a reduction in force. Palin says the union’s contract doesn’t allow the Fire District to sub-contract with a private ambulance service that would bill the patient, not the taxpayers for its services.

“The choices are both bad,” Palin said of the decision the board is expected to make Monday night. “We lay them all off, we have no fire service. We don’t lay them off, we’re in violation of state labor laws because we don’t pay them.”

Last month, a group handed town officials a petition with 107 signatures to recall Frank Palin from his position, asking him to hold a special meeting about it. Palin has not yet done so, and said Sunday there was no recall provision in the town’s charter.

If the district does close, the closest fire station that could respond to emergencies would be Central Coventry – a district that is also going through financial troubles. The town also has two other fire districts.

Both Gorman and Palin agree a possible solution to the financial woes of fire districts in Coventry would be for town officials to create a municipal fire department, though the two sides don’t agree on how that should be done. The state sent a letter to town officials last month reminding them of their duty to protect residents.

Palin has asked the union to negotiate in an open session at Monday’s board meeting, something Gorman squarely rejects. Gorman says he will not be attending the meeting.

Three of the board’s five members would need to vote in favor of layoffs for the fire district to close.

Monday night’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Club Jogues at 184 Boston Street.

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