Report: Rhode Island Spends Most of Any State on Fire Aid

October 14, 2009

Rhode Island spends more money on fire protection than any state in the country, according to a report released Tuesday by a business-backed financial watchdog group.

The study released by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council showed that taxpayers spent about $6.24 on fire services for every $1,000 of personal income, or just under double the national average of $3.21 per $1,000 of income.

That spending works out to about $233 per Rhode Islander on an annual basis, according to a review of spending from the 2007 fiscal year, the last period for which the U.S. Census Bureau has nationwide spending statistics.

“The conclusion you could make is that either we have very expensive fire services, or we provide a lot of services,” RIPEC Executive Director John Simmons said.

Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, has previously cited public safety costs in calling for an examination of whether the nation’s smallest state should merge local government services among its 39 cities and towns to save money. The debate has intensified as soaring unemployment drives down state tax income.

Local cities and towns have lost millions of dollars in state aid as lawmakers have tried to close massive budget deficits.

A Senate commission is now examining ways local governments can share services and cuts costs. Fire protection costs will likely be part of its inquiry, said Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, D-East Greenwich, a commission member.

“It certainly is a signal that we ought to look at it,” he said.

Besides spending more on fire services, the RIPEC analysis concluded that Rhode Island:

  • Spent about $67.98 per $1,000 of personal income on education, but about three-quarters of that went to elementary and secondary schools;
  • Ranked among the bottom 10 states for spending on higher education — in part a result of the number of private colleges in New England — highways, natural resources and parks and recreation.

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