Town Council approves loan to keep fire district operating

The Coventry Town Council stepped in Tuesday night to keep the financially troubled Central Coventry Fire District open a little longer.

Over the objection of loud critics, the Town Council approved an interest-free loan of up to $300,000 to the troubled district to keep it open until new tax bills come in next month.

The Central Coventry Fire District is set to run out of money Thursday night and close.

Council leaders said they hope the loan buys time for lawmakers to come up with a permanent solution. The loan plan needs court approval.

The Town Council meeting got heated as some angry taxpayers didn't want the council to step in.

Town Council President Gary Cote told the crowd the move is all about public safety.

"That's all we're trying to do is protect your interest," Cote said over crowd noise. "This council is responsible for the health and welfare of the citizens of the town of Coventry. We take our job seriously and we will do it."

Two weeks ago, Central Coventry taxpayers overwhelmingly voted down a big tax hike that would have kept the district open. Some said they don't want the cash from the council now.

"I think it was ridiculous. We voted down three budgets that are out of hand and they don't want to listen to us. I'd rather see it close and start from scratch again," said Cindy Fagan.

But others said they are OK with the loan from the town.

"I don't believe most voters voted to not have fire service," said Jim Kuipers. "I don't know if this is the best answer, but certainly something had to be done."

Gov. Lincoln Chafee showed up after the vote at Coventry Town Hall. He approved of the result and, along with council leaders, countered claims that surrounding fire districts in town could just pick up the slack if Central Coventry closed.

"That's easier said than done. Somebody's got to answer 911, and the surrounding districts, their constituents are paying for their protection," Chafee told reporters.

The loan plan is expected to be brought to the judge overseeing the fire district case at a court hearing Wednesday afternoon.