Mayor Scott Avedisian won’t be signing the $282 million city budget approved by the City Council last Monday, nor will he veto it.
The lack of any action means the budget, along with its residential tax rate of $19.79 per $1,000, will take effect. But that doesn’t appear to be the end of the story.
In a message to the City Council yesterday, Avedisian said he could veto some of the amendments made by the council, raising the issue, “but to what end.” He called the budget process grueling and in some cases rather petty.
“To continue that attitude will not well serve taxpayers, business community, my administration or the City Council,” he said.
But this may not be the end of a controversy focused on two police department custodial positions. As midnight approached in the final budget hearing last Monday, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon proposed an amendment to cut the two positions from the Police Department budget, using the $92,832 saved to make up a major proportion of the $437,832 transferred as an addition to the School Department.
At the time, Solomon insisted the positions are new, which they were to the police budget. However, while new to the police budget, the positions have been filled by custodians in the Department of Public Works. The lead custodian is Ed Carpenter, an Avedisian supporter who ran against Solomon for the council as a Republican some years ago.
After the Beacon reported that connection in Thursday’s paper, Solomon said he was working from the budget and as these are new positions, he did not know they were filled and by who.
“I don’t play that game. I don’t play politics,” Solomon said, insisting that his amendment was motivated by doing what is best for the city and its taxpayers.
Solomon also said if existing employees fill the new positions, then the “lead custodian” is actually receiving a raise and this is unfair to other municipal employees who agreed to three-year contracts with no raises.
Solomon said efforts to paint him as playing politics with the budget only hurts the credibility of those making the allegation.
So, without the mayor vetoing the budget amendment, will the Police Department go without custodians?
That won’t happen, Mark Carruolo, the mayor’s chief of staff, said yesterday.
“We’re going to find a way to fund them,” Carruolo said.
He said to eliminate the positions would result in “bumping,” as the two custodians have seniority over others in the Department of Public Works. In addition, a personnel department staff member pointed out that whoever ended up losing their job would collect unemployment and, in the end, the net savings to the city would be negligible.
Carruolo explained that the transfer of the custodial positions from the Department of Public Works to Police is aimed at streamlining operations. As it is now set up, custodians assigned to police report to Joseph Blake, who heads the building maintenance division. Work orders, therefore, must gain Blake’s approval before the job can start. Now police will have control over its custodians.
A comparison of the current budget and the new one does reflect an increase in the total number of custodians from 14 to 15. Overall, Carruolo said, this doesn’t represent an increase in city personnel as a laborer’s position in the Department of Public Works is being eliminated. He said the difference in costs between the two positions is negligible.
Carruolo said Carpenter was promoted to lead custodian last summer.
Solomon’s amendment on the custodians was one of several he proposed. Other changes to the budget were a $50,000 cut to the severance pay line item, a reduction of $65,000 from the Department of Public Works salt budget, an $80,000 reduction in the department’s tipping fees budget (which pays for trash disposal at the state landfill) and a $150,000 cut from the street lighting line item.
Avedisian said that, because of the cuts, additional funding may have to be reallocated to the reduced line items during the fiscal year, based on, for example, the number of employees who retire and winter weather conditions.
“Likewise,” Avedisian wrote members of the council, “[DPW] Director [David] Picozzi testified before the City Council that the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation has voted to lower our cap at the landfill. Even with our stellar recycling and diversion rates, we may need to allocate additional funds” to the tipping fees line item.