At first, it appeared that Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono was the only council member to favor his resolution in support of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s legislative package to help distressed municipalities. He was met with silence when he moved favorable action on the resolution..
However, more than 10 minutes afterward, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon asked Council President Bruce Place why they skipped the legislation in question. Apparently, Solomon did not hear Colantuono’s motion.
As a result, the council regrouped and Solomon made a motion for reconsideration. With that, the council began a discussion about the package, which they approved on an 8-1 vote, with Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson holding out.
During the debate, she told Chafee that while she firmly supports pension reform, she didn’t agree with his proposal.
“I see this as no more than union busting,” she told Chafee.
When Chafee addressed the council, he said his municipal package will give “highly distressed” cities and towns, or those enduring considerable financial hardship, more freedom in dealing with their current fiscal situations, as well as reduce or do away with the annual cost-of-living-adjustment increases for public retiree pensions. Cities that classify as “highly distressed” include Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and West Warwick.
“What I’m asking with this municipal package is not for money; I’m just asking for reforms that allow them to address what the state did to them,” he said at the council Monday night. “Why does that affect us in Warwick? Well, if West Warwick goes into bankruptcy as Central Falls did, it’s a black eye for Rhode Island.”
Chafee went on to say that he is asking other municipalities across the state, including Warwick, Jamestown, Tiverton, Little Compton, among others, to do whatever they can to prevent more bankruptcies in Rhode Island.
“I call it taking the handcuffs off,” he said. “We threw West Warwick in the pool and said, ‘Here, swim with handcuffs on.’ Let’s at least take the handcuffs off so they can reach the side for fiscal stability. Mark my words: Central Falls will be joined by one or two or three communities. Please give them some help.”
Initially, it seemed as if the council wasn’t in support of the package, as Solomon, as well as Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, spoke against it. Travis mentioned that she is worried about the financial stability of Warwick.
“We don’t want to be put in these positions either,” she said. “Warwick will still have to be a top priority.”
During the committee meeting about an hour or so earlier, Council President Place echoed the same sentiments.
“I believe we should be helping highly stressed communities but we should be affording the communities that aren’t highly distressed an opportunity to benefit by some of the mandates that are going to be relaxed so we don’t become one of those distressed communities,” he said.
But, Colantuono, along with the mayor’s chief of staff, Mark Carruolo, explained why and how the package would impact Warwick. If, for example, West Warwick goes bankrupt and needs to shut down it’s fire department, Warwick will need to respond. Further, Colantuono said it might be beneficial for people to view it from a community perspective.
“Where are they going [and] how are they living?” he said.
“This will give them the opportunity, if they so choose, to improve their fiscal health.”