PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee and municipal leaders from across Rhode Island on Tuesday highlighted the need for cities and towns to have the flexibility to cost-effectively manage their fire departments and said they vigorously oppose any legislation that would remove essential methods for containing costs.
The Lt. Governor and a group of 13 city and town leaders sent a letter to House and Senate leadership last month detailing their serious concerns with legislation, House Bill 5473 and Senate Bill 0533, that would strip away municipalities' ability to freely manage a platoon structure or shift schedule in their fire departments.
The group said Tuesday they oppose any such legislation that would impede the ability of cities and towns to make decisions that are in the best interests of taxpayers.
"Any legislation that ties a city or town's hands in making management decisions that are in the best interests of its residents is not legislation we can support," said Lt. Governor McKee. "We must start making decisions that are in the best interests of all residents."
The Lt. Governor added: "Make no mistake: What is playing out right now is a tug-of-war between creating healthy, solvent communities and clinging to the status quo."
In a case involving the Town of North Kingstown, the Rhode Island Supreme Court found in January that it was within the town's management rights to restructure the department from four platoons to three. Many fire departments across the country have done so.
Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said, "The current cost of firefighter overtime is unsustainable. It is preventing us from making the investments we know we need to educate our children, fix our roads and provide good city services. We need to be able to make the changes that will bring us in line with cities and towns across the country that run 21st century fire departments."
"Without the ability to manage our fire departments, the future of our cities and towns and their financial stability will be jeopardized," said Mayor Charles A. Lombardi of North Providence. "Our opposition to these bills is all about controlling costs and saving taxpayer dollars."
Also in attendance Tuesday were Cranston Mayor Allan Fung; Cumberland Mayor William Murray; Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena; Lincoln Town Administrator Joe Almond, who serves as president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns; North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton; Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien; Smithfield Town Manager Dennis Finlay; and West Warwick Town Manager Frederick Presley.
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