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Budget critics get shut down at hearing

Council President Bruce Place banged his gavel more than once at Thursday night’s budget hearing, as he felt members of the public were speaking out of line and veering off topics relating to Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $279,738,922 budget for FY2013.

The largest increase in city expenses involves employee benefits and capital expenses at $3,877,306, including employee pensions and health care. Pension assumptions, such as the rate of return, were revised and are consistent with those adopted by the Board of the Rhode Island Municipal Employees’ Retirement System. The other large expenditure involves public safety at $2,103,540.

Before the end of the hearing, Avedisian announced that due to additional savings he identified, he proposed increasing the motor vehicle valuation exemption from $1,500 to $2,000 per vehicle. The mayor and council reduced the exemption from $6,000 to $500 last year to raise an additional $8 million.

“I think that’s a good thing,” Place said of the mayor’s proposal in a phone interview yesterday afternoon. “I’m very much in favor of that because it relieves the burden for a lot of taxpayers.”

The council was expected to act on the budget last night. If he chooses, the mayor can veto their budget.

“I have no predictions at this time, but we’re ready to rock and roll,” Place said yesterday.

At the hearing, citizen Rob Cote, who spearheaded the Car Tax Revolt last summer, along with former council member and school committee member Bob Cushman and resident Roger Durand, was stifled not only by Place and his gavel, but also by jeers from the assembly of more than 100, which consisted mostly of Warwick firefighters and employees from the Department of Public Works (DPW).

When Cote addressed the council, as well as Avedisian and DPW Director David Picozzi, he asked if the DPW would benefit from cost savings by obtaining time clocks that require fingerprints for employees to punch in and out. According to Cote, the specific type of time clock costs approximately $1,200.

He also asked if they would consider obtaining GPS tracking devices for each vehicle, which he said would cost less than $1 a day per vehicle for the best software available on the market.

Cote said his questions stemmed from an investigation conducted by WPRI reporter Walt Buteau during recent months. In his research, Buteau witnessed a DPW employee clocking in another employee before using a city vehicle to transport his co-worker to DPW headquarters located on Sandy Lane on several occasions.

Buteau also had access to photos of the employee’s time card that listed the dates and times he was clocked in before he reported to work.

Further, Cote and a Beacon reporter tracked one DPW highway vehicle and witnessed the driver, along with a passenger, travel throughout the city for at least three hours on a few occasions without exiting the vehicle. That information was brought to Picozzi’s attention and the Beacon was informed that the employee involved had been disciplined.

When Cote asked Picozzi if he feels the equipment is necessary and whether he feels he has an honest staff, Picozzi replied, “I think I have a very honest department.”

With that, DPW workers and firefighters applauded, drowning out Cote’s response.

After the applause, Cote expressed that he feels certain employees do not conduct themselves in an “ethical manner.” Again, Cote was interrupted, but this time by Place.

“There isn’t a line item in the budget about fingerprinting or GPS [systems],” said Place. “It’s not part of this budget hearing. You’re not going to disrupt this meeting. If you continue, I’m going to have you removed.”

Again, the crowd applauded in an uproar. Before taking his seat, Cote said he believes his comments were consistent with the budget, as he feels the actions of certain DPW employees reflect a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Yesterday, Place said he doesn’t regret his actions and words, as he was doing his best to stay on target.

“I didn’t need to be thrown off track or confused by anyone trying to make comments about another subject,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let it go.”

After Cote spoke at the hearing, resident Richard Langseth, who frequently attends hearings and council meetings, echoed Cote’s sentiments about GPS devices.

“We should know where these vehicles are,” he said.

In response to the issue, Avedisian said he and his administration looked into GPS tracking devices in the past but discovered that there were a “number of downfalls” within the system. He also said the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the practice.

In relation to health care and Police and Fire 1 pensions, as well as the general fiscal security of Warwick, Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla noted that he is concerned. What he fears, he said, is ending up like Central Falls and West Warwick municipalities that have filed for bankruptcy.

“How can you even have an intelligent conversation about health care when it’s completely unfunded?” Merolla said at the hearing. “I hear a lot that we’re better off than other communities and I tend to think we have stage one or two of cancer and the other communities have stage five. I don’t want to have any cancer. But, the actuarial report speaks for itself. We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.”

Merolla continued to express his feelings.

“We have a fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers and everybody that works for the city to make sure that when they retire, we have enough money to pay for their pensions,” he said.

Afterwards, Cushman and the mayor’s Chief of Staff Mark Carruolo debated about pensions. Cushman, a business analyst who is known in the city for creating and distributing charts and graphs at meetings, offered his calculations and said that from his point of view, the mayor and his staff are “ignoring” what he projects will be a future pension crisis.

According to actuarial reports, Cushman said, in 2021 the contribution rate will triple to $39 million. Eight years later, it will quadruple to $52 million.

“That’s not a crisis?” Cushman said. “It’s becoming unsustainable.”

While actuarial reports are done every two years, Carruolo said Cushman is looking too far into the future.

“Respectfully, these are very complicated formulas and ratios, but they are projections,” said Carruolo. “I am not an expert and neither are you.”

With that, the room again erupted in applause. When it ended, Cushman said, “You don’t have to be an expert to see we have a problem in this city when most of your tax dollars are going to pensions and retirement health care costs. I sometimes feel bad for the employees who don’t realize this.”

Durand was then jeered when he said, “Mr. Cushman, you’re a man ahead of your time.”

The assembly was mostly quiet, however, when Langseth and another resident Roy Dempsey offered the union workers some advice.

“People in the unions,” said Langseth, “make sure you understand that there are some issues for the employees,” while Dempsey added, “Get an expert’s advice and have them tell you what the implications are. I wouldn’t rely on a politician to tell you.”

In contrast, Wednesday’s hearing was tame and filled with praise for city department workers, including DPW staff. Words of adoration for department heads and employees of the Warwick Public Library, the planning department, human services, senior centers, family support services, community development and tourism, culture and development came from the council, as well as members of the assembly.

26 comments on this item

Heres a though Jessica, why not report what actually happened at the meeting, budget wise. Instead this entire article is geared towards a few people that stood up and complained. What about actually reporting the budget, good or bad. This paper is crap....

I disagree with Citizenworker. There were not any changes to the budget except for a couple of small corrections to calculations.

The demonstrations by firefighters dressed in blue shirts with Warwick Fire Department emblazoned on them was the story. I can go two ways with their display of Warwick Fire Deparatment on their shirts. The good news is we now know who is packing the city council chambers. The bad news is that one could argue that they were in a uniform of sorts with the fire department name on the shirts. The mayor and fire chief should sit down with union officials to urge that this kind of nonprofessional display by uniformed city first responders be stopped.

Richard - I know you are smarter than that. Are they tax payers? YES (Reason #1 they can and should be there) Is the budget directly relating to their job? YES (Reason #2 they can and should be there). Does it say anywhere in the city charter that they can't show up? Explain how they were unprofessional. I was there, I didn't see any disrespect or unprofessionalism. Just because you didn't get the support you and Rob were looking for don't blame the people that showed up. Don't give me the line of the citizens were too nervous to come to the meeting because of the "tatooed peirced thugs" according to Cote.

Anybody has the right to speak at a city council meeting. But acting out in identifying uniforms is not a smart thing to do.

That display changed my attitude toward city employees and reminded me of the school teachers' strike when they rocked my wife's car with little kids in it. Those days are gone. But the memories are burned into the psyches of everybody who was wounded by that activity.

It is no longer worth the trouble pointing out to the firefighters where their pensions are going.

I didn't hear any jeers, I heard applause when Cote was gaveled down for making character attacks against employees during a budget hearing. That's shoddy reporting. I also never heard a single threat made against Cote. I heard applause and calls of support for Picozzi and the DPW workers. This is their template though, speak off the docket, slander the public workers there then go cry in the media that you were threatened and intimidated. It's a shame. I love how Cote likes to paint the picture of DPW workers as criminal thugs with tattoos when one need only google Cote's name to see he's the one who has been charged with felonies. It's a matter of public record that can be found here: http://www.dem.ri.gov/news/1998/pr/0605981.htm

If the guy just stuck to the issues, I could respect him.

Richard, what do you constitute as acting out? I didn't see or hear anyone in a WFD shirt do anything but clap in applause. The only member who spoke did so in a respectful manner at the podium in plain clothes.

I did not see any firefighters jeering either. And, they treated me with respect when I spoke. However, just being there in blue shirts with the Warwick Fire Department name on them presents a problem. They best leave these shirts at home.

On a positive note, I did not even look around to see if there was more than one police officer in uniform. I felt comfortable that these firefighters would not allow personal attacks to blow out of control.

Please tell me why wearing a WFD shirt to a budget meeting directly relating to the WFD is a problem? I have a hard time believing that this constatutes a threat. Gimme a break....

I can't wait until the dpw and ff's turnon the politicians when there retirements are gone. It may not be for 10 years, but its coming. Know that in 2012 you were warned. And when you bankrupt the city, don't blame it on the taxpayers for not properly funding the pensions.

You reap what you sow.

Taxpayers have never been blamed, we are taxpayers also. Its the politicians that took our money (taxpayer money) in the 80' and 90's and didn't put it where is was supposed to go. Patientman, what would you like us to do?

Our tax rate has gone up nearly 50% over the last 6 years. The rate of increase is not sustainable. And everytime you attack taxpayer advocates you blame the taxpayers. And not all public employees live in Warwick. Some of them are smarter than that.

What taxpayer advocate is being attacked?

Verbally attacked. But don't worry. The people of Wisconsin have given the working man in this country a huge victory tonight. Lets hope that collective bargaining continues to be stripped from the powerful special interests, that have destroyed the working class in America.

God bless America and God bless Scott Walker.

Give me a break, now clapping is being 'verbally attacked'? I encourage the taxpayers to come to more meetings and see who's the spinning claps and cheers into threats. It's people like Cote being incendiary and doing the attacking. City employees dare show up and clap and all of a sudden hes calling The Dan York Show to slander them as 'tattooed thugs'. Cote would have you believe he was cornered and a finger shoved in his chest. We're talking about clapping and whoops and hollars. Scary stuff!!!

I support labor unions if for no other reason than their being a check and balance to big business and wall street. A world where the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Wall Street fat cats have complete free reign is far scarier to me than police and firefighters having the ability to negotiate a fair wage and safe working conditions.

I like how you waited till after the election to spew your hated. You didn't have the stones beforehand!!!!! I promise you Ive worked harder in one year than you have in your entire life....

Congratulations Governor Walker!! This can happen here too Rhode Island! Vote the unions out! They have put one city into bankruptcy already and others are tethering on bankruptcy. When the money runs out, they just don't get it.

The working class of RI deserve better treatment than this. We deserve better treatment than we have gotten for over 30 years. The unions and the Democrats have put RI in last place yet again for business climate. We are also projected to be the last state to come out of this recession thanks to Democrats and Unions.

Governor Walker is a true leader, a beacon of hope for the rest of the working class in this country. The working class has received non-stop abuse from unions and Democrats, this is just one of many stories that show how bad it is. Don't let the unions and the Democrats destroy what is left of the working class in this state. With Walker, we finally see , a shred of decency for the towards the working class. Let's try to move in that direction and let's make the working class strong again!!

"I support labor unions if for no other reason than their being a check and balance to big business and wall street. A world where the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Wall Street fat cats have complete free reign is far scarier to me than police and firefighters having the ability to negotiate a fair wage and safe working condition"

Fair wages?? Fair benefits??? Are you kidding, these union packages are the most unfair packages out there. How is the working class suppose to pay for all this? The unions are stealing our money, and the mayor is going right along with them. Warwick will be in Bankruptcy in a few years and just like Providence, we can thank the unions for their ability to be as corrupt as ever, to steal money from the working class for benefits none of us will ever see but have to struggle to pay for for the corrupt union mafia. Unions a check and balance against Wall Street? That is the b ingest piece of propaganda on this page so far. We need big business to be the check and balance against unions. It is the only way the working class will survive in this country. It is Corporate America that will eventually pull us out of this recession, while the unions continue to try to keep us in the recession.

Unions are the enemy of the working class. Just look at your property tax bill, your water bill, your sewer bill, you car tax......all going to unions on the back of the working class. I would not have said this 3 years ago, but I am grateful for Corporate America, they will do more for the working class in a year than they unions have ever done for us.

So, Carrol, you trust Corporate America to pull us out of a recession that they put us into in the first place with their greed and malfeasance? It was Wall Street with their credit default swaps, predatory lending, mortgage fraud and the Subprime lending scandal which lead to the largest housing bubble burst in history and nearly the largest loss of wealth for the middle class in the history of the US... ALL perpertrated by your trusted corporate America. Yet unions are stealing your money? These are the people who lace up their boots and slip on some heels and actually WORK for you. LOOK WHAT WE GET FOR 18 bucks per thousand: Excellent waste removal and recycling, a trust worthy well equipped, fast responding police dept that has kept the violence of other communities away from your door. A excellent fire dept that answers over 16,000 runs a year. Mostly for EMS to aid you when you are sick or dying. A FD that responds so quickly to fires and contains them so well that the news channels barely bother covering them because these fires are out long before their van can even get there! A city works department that clears these streets of snow like no other community in the state! A city works that will still come pick up your yard waste and large debris! Almost no other community does that any more. A city yard that maintains wonderful parks, ball fields, a pool and an ice rink and roads. IT TAKES PEOPLE TO DO THESE THINGS! Sure they get a nice pension. That doesnt make the union crooks because you deserve a nice pension for your labors too. Corporate America is the one who defrauded you of your wealth and retirment.

I will admit there are two things that the recession shined a light on that will be beneficial to us if solved.

1.) SOME pensions in RI had unsustainable features like the COLA's in Providence. (COLAs in Warwick never worked that way mind you...) Overall some pensions in RI were in need of some reform. What we have seen since 2008 is time after time Unions voting to make concessions, change pensions and amend contracts. If you look at most of the rhetoric on both sides you would see that Unions never had a problem giving up something. That is evidenced in the 10's upon 10's of millions willingly given up by Unions since 2008. It was how cities and the state attempted to do it which they took issue with.

2.) Democrats in this state no longer pander to Unions. Look around, unions are taking hit after hit. Democrats now pander to the WELFARE CLASS!!! Its not working people, union or non union who are destroying the country. Its the polar opposites that are: The super-rich and the welfare class. Now, thats not to say we shouldnt have some programs to help people. Of course we should. BUT!!! When 3.4 BILLION dollars of this states annual budget goes to social services and entitlements, or NEARLY HALF of last years approx 7.4 BILLION dollar budget goes to SSI/SSDI and their FREE CELL PHONES, SNAP, RItecare, Section 8, Corrupt PROCAP and on and on and on and on.... These programs are rife with fraud, PEOPLE ACTUALLY STEALING from the working class and guess what? THEY ARENT Union memebers. Democrats cater to them. They give them everything they want at the expense of working people and that along with corporate greed (not corporate profit mind you. Profit is a good thing, greed leads to recessions...)

Dear Deal,

Its too bad that you are not smart enough to follow up on the DEM issue that you continually try to slander with. If you had, you would find that there were no charges brought forth (zero) and that the matter never even made it to court. Why??? Because when the evidence came out that there was no petroleum products (gas) in the septic, the drains, or the trap, the entire matter was dismissed. Maybe you should concentrate on your seated councilman who was arressted for shoplifting and was recently bagged taking $9765.00 from a no bid contract with who?? THE DPW! And who was incharge of giving out the contracts? Mr. DPW HIMSELF, PICOZZI. When Mr. Picozzi states that all of "his guys" are honest, I guess he includes Mr. Naylor, his worker and friend, currently charged and being prosecuted for larceny. yeah, he's honest. And Picozzi tries to cover up the theft with a BS "borrowing policy. If the mayor had any credibility he would have fired Picozzi twice already.

I also find it funny how all of the union workers believe Picozzi and his view of the pension system. After all, I am sure he learned alot about pensions just prior to DROPPING OUT OF HIGHSCHOOL, and you fools believe it. It is also quite amazing how the union boys scream and yell and hide behind type, but cant put 2 sentences together in a public forum on the mcrophone. The 6 rat council members blew so much smoke up the fire fighters asses that I wanted to call 911. Maybe we should have a trophy made for the WFD. It would be a statue of a firefighter patting himself on the back. Here is a link just for you and your honest hard working DPW. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj-Yai-KYd0

Picozzi dropped out of high school? that can't be true. Seriously that can't be true. Would somebody please audit his department. Finishing high school is as easy as showing up.

Picozzi dropped out of high school? that can't be true. Seriously that can't be true. Would somebody please audit his department. Finishing high school is as easy as showing up.

Hey, all I said was Cote was charged. That much is shown by the state DEM link I provided. I wouldnt even have brought it in to discussion if Cote wasnt making blanket claims on DPW workers as Tattooed Thugs. His type of inflammatory rhetoric and ad hominem attack is unwarranted and counter productive and even worse, factually untrue.

Correct me if Im wrong but the WFD doesnt work for Picozzi and therefor his views on pensions and his level of education are irrelevant to the WFD. The only views that should matter to the WFD are those of the actuaries.

I dont understand why it comes as a surprise that if you follow around public workers long enough, you'll find a bad apple or two. Follow around enough private workers and you'll find the same. Thats not to say these public workers shouldnt be held accountable. According to Picozzi at the budget hearing, a DPW worker was fired and those in your video have been reprimanded. I take the man at his word. I support keeping honest people honest and the scrutiny of these depts is welcomed in my book. What I take issue with regarding Cote is his nastiness and the way he conducts himself in and out of council chambers. Like I said, if the man stuck to facts I could respect to him. I respect Richard Langseth even though I sometimes ardently disagree with him. I find him to be a decent man with good intentions. Not at all a vengeful, spiteful man with chip on his shoulder. Maybe that is why he was treated so well by the WFD.

Do people who don't make anything, sell, service ect actually pay taxes? If the taxpayer that pays the taxes ,to pay their salary is not there anymore will the public employee be able to pay their taxes ? Or if people keep leaving the city and there are less tax dollars to go around, will that employee still have a job? We will soon see.

They don't make or service anything? They make your trash and snowy roads disappear. They make the playgrounds and ballparks look nice for you. The make your children educated. They make house calls when you are sick or injured. They make fires go out and the make crumpled cars open. They make a loop around your house in the middle of the night when you thought heard some one out there. They make the streets some of the safest in the state. They walk the halls of your kids schools to protect them from eachother and the outside world... The problem is you actually have to pay taxes for all they do. Oh the injustice!!

Volunteer would do a better job, For little or no money ( Parks and Ball parks ) All set. Volunteer fire fighters They all can find a new career as chef. I do think the police are doing a great job. Charter Schools ( A lot better job then the Public Schools) Trash and plowing can be sub out.. Oh the Justice for the ones that pay the bills

Sure, there's no shortage of people willing to do the grunt work for free for you. Nice dream land you live in.

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