Coventry spars with Newport City over fire coverage

NEWPORT CITY – Newport City Manager John Ward threw cold water on a request from the Coventry Select Board to contract for Newport Fire Department Services.Coventry is hoping to change their "on call" agreement for fire protection to one based on a contract in hopes it will save Coventry money, and the city council seemed open to discussing the idea. Coventry Select Board Chair Mike Marcotte and select board member Brad Maxwell attended Monday’s city council meeting. Marcotte suggested a contract that would be renewed every year. Coventry also pays Newport Town, Irasburg, and Orleans for fire protection services. The department closest to the scene of the emergency is the one that responds first.Having a contract would give Coventry the ability to budget better for fire coverage, Marcotte told the council. “You’re going to know exactly how much money you’re going to receive. We’re going to know how much money we’re going to pay,” he said. The agreement would mean that Coventry would not pay for mutual-aid coverage. As it is now, Coventry pays for each department that responds to calls in town. “Our budget year is ending. We budgeted about $8,500 for Newport Fire Department, based on our experience. We’re now over $21,000," explained Marcotte.Coventry hasn’t complained about increased cost in the past, but Newport is now asking Coventry to pay 10- to 12-percent of capital expenses for the fire department, he said. Marcotte asked the council, “Before we continue looking at starting our own department, is there any interest in trying to come up with a contract between our two municipalities and make sure it’s fair for Newport and fair for Coventry?”City Manager John Ward Jr. wasn't happy with the request. “I would encourage Coventry to get your own fire department,” said Ward, who called the bill for services “very reasonable.” Newport is billing Coventry its cost to roll and nothing extra and Newport pays a lot of for its department and equipment, he said. “You should really look at establishing your own fire department to see what it really costs to have a fire department, a fire station and men on call. You’ll find it’s a lot more money than what we try to reach out with what we think is a very small amount.”Newport City tax rate is the sixth or seventh highest in the state, Ward said. Marcotte, who owns a business in Newport, reminded Ward that he pays city taxes and said he understands the concerns. “We’re not here to nickel and dime you and we’re not here to try to screw over Newport,” Marcotte said to Ward. “You’re making it sound like that’s what we’re trying to do and we’re not.”Revenues Coventry pays Newport go into the general fund, not the fire department, Marcotte said. He also said Coventry helped buy air packs for the department. If Coventry formed its owned department, it would become part of the mutual-aid system, which would mean Newport City would be asked to respond to calls as backup but would not be paid. Calls to Coventry mean more training and more calls for the Newport City Fire Department that uses those calls to support grant applications, Marcotte said.Ward insisted that the fees are reasonable. He also said Newport Fire Department responds to calls with a lot of equipment because it doesn’t know what is needed.More equipment and member requirements are needed to belong to mutual-aid, said Newport City Fire Chief Jamie LeClair, who attended the meeting. He said more training is mandated than used to be. Departments also have more costs because certified technicians need to make equipment repairs. Newport City Fire Department’s budget overspent about $120,000, Ward said.Council President John Wilson said a contract might be a good deal for Coventry and Newport City and council member Richard Baraw wondered what would happen if the city had to buy an expensive piece of equipment.