In an address that highlighted achievements of his administration and initiatives for the future, Scott Avedisian left no doubt Tuesday night that he hasn’t tired of the mayor’s job he has held for nearly 13 years.
Before an audience of more than 400, including Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Jim Langevin and mayors, state legislators, judges and former Warwick mayors, Avedisian said his administration “remains eager, strong and ready to continue to build the foundation we began more than a decade ago.”
Avedisian, who spoke for more than 20 minutes, commended the cooperative efforts of the City Council in addressing pension reform, arriving at a resolution to a longer runway at Green Airport and setting in place a plan for the development of the Warwick Station District that will promote economic development, job growth and revitalize the area.
He also recognized the role of the city’s unions in reaching three-year agreements that increase co-payments for health care and hold the line on wages. He said the wage freeze shaves $34 million from the city’s unfunded pension liability.
Avedisian asked the audience to join him in a round of applause “to thank our union and management employees alike for their willingness, always, to work with us in the best interest of our residents.”
The audience also joined him in tribute to former School Superintendent Robert J. Shapiro, who worked in Warwick schools for 50 years. Shapiro died last fall.
“Bob was an educator in every sense of the word, a true gentleman who inspired many of us in this room to achieve more than we believed possible,” he said. In appreciation of that service, Shapiro’s widow, Audrey, stood to be recognized.
In opening, Avedisian said he was asked recently, ‘What is there left for you to do?’
He went on to list accomplishments and then cited initiatives that included a tax cap lower than that set by the state, providing free tuition to qualified residents at CCRI and re-use of the former Potowomut School as a fire station and community police unit.
Avedisian said yesterday that he aims to accomplish both the fire station and police unit by “redeploying existing personnel.”
He said he would also look for the property to generate income with the lease of land for a cell phone tower.
While not mentioned, the administration will also face the challenge of what to do with the former Christopher Rhodes School. Based on the recommendations of a committee looking into possible uses of the property, the city sought proposals to convert the property into an assisted living facility. No proposals were submitted.
Also, depending on the school committee’s response to declining student enrollments, the city could be faced with finding a future use for other school properties, including a junior high school by the end of this year.
Asked whether his tax cap proposal is an indication that the city can expect a tax increase in the coming year, Avedisian said it is a “threshold” designed to limit an increase, should it be necessary.
In his speech, Avedisian pledged that any tax increase would be at least a quarter of a percent beneath the state mandated cap. As an example, he said if the state cap on tax levy increases 4 percent, the city’s budget would not increase by more than 3.75 percent of the previous budget’s levy.
One of the more ambitious initiatives would be to give qualified residents tuition-free courses at CCRI.
In his speech, Avedisian said CCRI has a “broader curriculum and greater flexibility in class scheduling, including online courses, than the School Department is currently able to provide.”
The mayor explained yesterday that federal funds flow into the state for locally run adult education programs. The city no longer runs adult education programs, so the money doesn’t come to the school department.
Avedisian would have those funds pay for tuitions, or offset tuition costs for Warwick residents attending CCRI. He said there might be qualifications to the program that would need to be defined.
“This would not cost the School Department, but would provide greater educational and training opportunities for those adults who want to start new careers or enhance their existing education for job advancement,” he said in his speech.
Seemingly in reference to talk that this will be his last term as mayor, Avedisian concluded his remarks saying, “There is already much speculation about the future.”
But he put that aside.
He said he and the City Council and School Committee “have much work to do. Let’s get to work.”