Nasonville Fire District attorney may look to school, town operations

Officials speak to counsel leading village away from union labor

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BURRILLVILLE – The attorney who’s working with the Nasonville Fire District Operating Committee to potentially break up the firefighter’s union and send the village’s calls to a neighboring district may soon take a look at the Burrillville school and town operations with an eye toward creating more efficiencies.

Timothy Cavazza of the Providence-based firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, LLP, has been in talks with Town Manager Michael Wood and Councilor David Place about having his firm take a hard look at Burrillville’s town and school operations.

In a communication sent to Town Council President John Pacheco in April, Cavazza and Attorney Dave Abbott, former counsel and deputy commissioner for the Rhode Island Department of Education, introduced themselves. Both have worked on several landmark cases in the state, helping town governments to balance budgets through reorganization of labor.

Cavazza worked to restructure the North Kingstown Fire Department, and helped the Woonsocket Budget Commission and the Central Coventry Fire District to renegotiate union contracts. Abbott was RIDE’s contact person for receivership in Central Falls and mediated a settlement in West Warwick in a maintenance of effort dispute over school funding.

Attorneys David Abbott, left, and Timothy Cavazza are hoping to work with town officials.

In Burrillville, Cavazza recently represented the Harrisville Fire District in union negotiations, and currently, he is working with the Nasonville Fire District to see if it would be more economical to have the district’s calls handled by neighboring Oakland/Mapleville, a change that could effectively dissolve the Nasonville fire union. Residents are scheduled to vote on the issue on Thursday, Sept. 27.

“Tim has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining the rights and legal authorities of municipal governments in a number of different contexts across the state,” noted the letter.  “Given our combined experience and expertise, we believe that we are uniquely suited to hewing that fine line between state and local authority as you look at budgetary and organizational adjustments.”

Place said the conversation with the attorneys came about because of budget cuts from the state that left the town short this year as a result of decreased enrollment – partially due to the rise of charter schools.

“I think this is a trend that’s going to be very difficult to avoid,” Place said. “The trajectory is to the point where we’re not going to be able to afford the school system that we have now, and the way in which we do business. Our ability to increase revenue does not keep up with this long term.”

Place said he asked Wood to see of there was anyone in this state that had the expertise to do a review of how Burrillville does business, and the town manager brought the names forward.

“It would be a health check-up from top to bottom,” said Place. “We’re all busy doing the every day operations. We’re all trying to plug holes. We’re plugging these holes while no one’s looking forward to five, ten years down the road.”

The pair’s high-profile firm also includes former Supreme Court Judge Robert Flanders; Daniel Kinder, Sara Rapport, and former U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Robert Clarke Corrente.

“If there’s concern about this particular group of individuals, that’s fine,” said Place. “We need to start looking at the way that we provide our educational services. I think this an opportunity to – as we’ve done in the past – take the lead in this state.”

“Salaries and growth in the School Department and the ability to raise revenue: they don’t match,” Place added. “That expense side is much steeper than that revenue number.”

Wood said his meeting with the men went well.

“We basically found out about Burrillville, and what we’re doing versus others in the state,” Wood said.

“We’re basically far ahead of the curve of other cities and towns with what we do,” Wood said, pointing to the process by which the council approves of all union contracts, and the town’s consolidation of services. “These people were surprised that we were already doing some of the things that they’d been working on in other places.”

“I think the idea here is the right idea- to get somebody in here to help us if we need it,” Wood said. “I support the idea, generally speaking.”

The council voted unanimously to have Wood shape the details of the potential plan.