Today an interesting flyer was delivered urging support for another new fire station in Coventry. The issue is the need for a building and the proposed solution being presented to the taxpayers.
The issue is not about the men and woman that volunteer or the services they provide the community, if that were the question the vote would be nearly unanimous. Coventry has professional level fire protection and a town wide ambulance service. But that is not the issue, what is in question is only a building proposal.
There is little doubt that the current building does not meet the needs of Coventry but that does not mean that voters should blindly endorse this proposal. This proposal is a major expenditure of limited funds and we must be sure it is the right solution for the problems we face in both the short term and long term.
In 2007 the Town Council formed a Fire Study Committee and paid a consultant to look at fire service in Coventry and make recommendations. Some committee members wanted to make public the findings of the consultant without committee members reviewing or making changes prior to a public presentation. A compromise was reached and it was agreed that committee members would only review the document for errors of fact prior to presentation.
Unfortunately that is not what happened. While the original document called for a move to a single fire department via a request for proposal that information was not presented to the public, instead the recommendation was changed. The change was made after the fall election but prior to the public presentation. As the representative from Matrix said when asked about the change, “there was a lack of political will”.
Now we are looking at building a fire station not to support a single fire department but to address the needs of two departments with two headquarter stations. We have a single police department and a single ambulance service and both function very well as could a single fire department.
I have seen the latest brochure and mention of response time. I recall one of the more serious fires on Silver Street and the order of response time. The first response unit on the scene was from the fire station located across from the Town Hall. The second unit on scene was from Bolton and the third unit was from North Coventry. The response time has more to do with the availability of manpower than the size or shape of a building.
The Town of Coventry does not now own the fire station that is the subject of this referendum, although the money to pay the mortgage has been provided by an annual grant of taxpayer dollars. In the past that payment was included as part of the line item designated as maintenance and not shown as a mortgage payment. That fact was found by the Town Council Finance Committee and changed just prior to the fire study.
The North Coventry Volunteer Fire Department now says it will deed the property to the Town if the referendum vote is approved. We the taxpayers have been paying for the building and yet transferring title for the building to the Town is being handled like a strong arm tactic to extort supporting votes. If you find that approach offensive you are not alone.
Coventry needs a building to support the efforts of our volunteers, but it must be designed in the best interest of our community. We currently have substations on South Street and Merrow Road. The Town Council recently was told of significant structural needs at the Merrow Road station. Before we move forward with new buildings and significant repairs we must address the more basic question do we really need two fire departments?
What Coventry does not need is to have the tail wag the dog or two fire departments engaged in a contest of my hose is bigger than yours. Building what amounts to a second fire department headquarters when what we need is a support facility for a single quality department is poor long term planning.
This referendum question should be once again turned down until the Town owns the property and has a single fire department to efficiently address the long term needs of Coventry. To do otherwise will be costly in the short term and poor planning for the long term.