The February referendum is over the combined proposal to build a new Town Garage and renovate a fire station has failed. The burning question remains, what next?
The issue of the fire station started some years ago when the North Coventry Fire Department came to the Town Council with a proposal to seek a grant to renovate the fire station. That proposal grew at one point from a relatively simple project in the 1/2 million dollar range to a more complex renovation of over $3,000,000.
The Town Council responded by forming a fire study committee and called for a study of fire department issues. The Matrix Study was done and called for writing a “request for proposal” to have a single fire department in Coventry. Then something curious happened. The report was revised without a vote or discussion of the fire study committee after being presented to the committee. This alteration was contrary to a prior agreement by the committee to not alter the recommendation of the report prior to the presentation to the public. The reason given for the change was the lack of political will. The Town spent significant money for that study and yet the true results were never made public.
The real question before the citizens of Coventry invest in and build a second fire department headquarters is do we really need two fire departments in Coventry. The Town is served well for ambulance service from one fire department covering the entire town. This stands as an example as to how well the job can be done from the central fire station located across from the Town Hall.
Does Coventry need two fire departments with a duplication of facilities for training and multiple chiefs not to mention the cost of operation to actively run two department headquarters? Does size matter? The current proposal calls for a large building that would not seem to fit into the rural character of Coventry. One need only to think back to the Walgreen proposal and the verbal outcry against a building of that size to ask the question; If this same proposal were to house a Rite-Aid drugstore would we once again hear the voices of opposition?
The leaders of Coventry should first act to implement the original Matrix Report recommendation to have a single department in Coventry before we spend limited tax dollars to perpetuate division that compromises the best use of tax dollars. A single fire department can bring unity of leadership and purpose that could well be combined with the ambulance service to protect the citizens of Coventry in time of emergency.
Coventry now has the opportunity to move in a new direction, to cast off the chains of past prejudice and overcome the obstacles of envy, and challenges of ego and emotion. It is time to explore the assets and the character that can bring commonality and unity to fire coverage. Loyalty to the past while admirable often brings single mindedness to stifle change, creativity and progress.
The tradition of funding two fire departments for a town the size of Coventry with tax dollars is one that should cease. There is no better time than now to end this tradition.