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Rhode Island has more fire districts, 43, than cities and towns. And like those 39 cities and towns, many of the districts have their own rules, protected by law, and ways of doing things. Rhode Islanders’ love of independence is deeply rooted and not without merit when it comes to providing much-needed local services.
Even with its high percentage of old housing stock, however, the state does not need so many different fire districts.
And as a report released last week by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council notes, such special districts – which have grown significantly nationally in the last 50 years – often lack fiscal controls to prevent mismanagement. Such was the case with the Central Coventry Fire District, which fell into receivership.
RIPEC also notes that many districts’ authority to set tax-levy increases actually exceeds yearly municipal limits.
Legislation in the General Assembly would rightly change that by expanding the 4 percent cap that applies to municipalities to fire districts as well. In addition, the legislation would establish much needed financial-reporting requirements.
And we applaud communities, including Lincoln and Cumberland, now considering consolidating their fire districts. Fewer districts, operating under the same rules as local communities, will help ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction as communities navigate turbulent fiscal waters. •