The Democratic City Council under Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, who led the charge for $1 million of budget cuts, has staged a “no win” scenario for Mayor Scott Avedisian.
Maybe this was the intent or, as Solomon says, “It’s about doing the city’s business.”
In trimming eight budget line items, the council came up with an additional $597,000 for road repaving and another $400,000 for schools.
It’s hard to argue with their choices.
It doesn’t take an expert to know many city roads are in tough shape. A particularly long winter has left many roads rutted with pothole patches.
In recent years of tight budgets, the city has depended on sewer construction and utility upgrades to repave roads. This is good use of funds but, as the city has experienced, new sewer construction has come to a halt and, while National Grid continues to replace natural gas lines, much of the repaving is restricted to a narrow strip down the side of most roads.
Mayor Avedisian felt it important that the city allocate funds for repaving and budgeted $450,000 for that purpose in his $288.8 million spending package.
It’s easy to argue that isn’t enough. We would all like better roads, and we concur with Solomon and Ward 8 Councilman Steve Merolla that roads are a critical component of the city’s infrastructure.
Another critical component of the city’s infrastructure is schools. We understand the School Committee’s plea for additional funds. It’s their job to provide the citizens of Warwick with the best educational system and programs it can. They should be lobbying for schools.
And we can see how the administration’s continual level funding of schools – $119 million in city funds – is an easy target for criticism. How are schools to get ahead if the city’s contribution is proportionally declining year after year?
There’s another side that the administration has articulated. For starters, schools have consistently ended the year with a surplus even though they started off the fiscal year crying they are in the poorhouse. Secondly, and this is by far a more compelling argument, student population is declining. Schools have concluded they could save in excess of $2 million annually through school consolidation, and the mayor has gone a step further by promising schools they could keep those savings. Yet, the school committee has chosen to prolong the inevitable and postponed a decision on consolidation.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to reason schools shouldn’t get more. And it would be outlandish to suggest roads are in great shape.
It’s the cuts that make this tough. The bulk of the savings come from a $600,000 reduction in health insurance premiums.
Is that possible? Would it leave the city in a position where it will overspend the account, as the mayor believes?
Solomon thinks not. He says the city can expect a 2.1 percent reduction in premiums, and that’s where the money will come from.
We suppose the mayor could “roll to dice” and see if that’s the case, but that’s not responsible. Other options are vetoing the council budget and stripping the additional allocations made to repaving and schools or increasing allocations, which will mean a further increase in taxes.
Council actions have boxed the mayor in and taken schools off the hook.
Was that the intent? Or is this really doing the people’s business?