Mayors from across the state spent more than an hour Tuesday telling Senate President M. Theresa Paiva Weed that what legislators do at the State House can have a profound effect on municipalities, although it appears she needed no reminding.
“We’re in delicate times right now,” Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said following the early afternoon meeting.
Fung said the mayors sought relief from any further mandates. He didn’t name any particular regulation, adding that Paiva Weed “was understanding.”
Fung observed that, typically, in the final days of the legislative session, bills get pushed through and municipal leaders scramble to assess their impact. He isn’t suggesting that will change, but he is hopeful legislators will be more considerate of the financial plight of municipalities.
Further, he said, “it’s easier to get meetings now instead of at the end of the session.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said no issue was off limits during the 90-minute meeting that was also attended by several senators. He said topics ranged from unfunded liabilities faced by municipalities to changes in motor vehicle valuations that are the subject of legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph McNamara. The lower valuations will impact municipal revenues. Also discussed, he said, was an issue raised by Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena requiring that town to make dam repairs.
“After the governor’s State of the State address,” Avedisian said of Chafee’s declaration that this is the ‘year of the cities and towns,’ “we’re looking to continue that discussion on a wide range of issues.”
To illustrate how state government and action by former governors have impacted municipalities, Avedisian outlined what Warwick has lost in state funds annually. He said the city lost about $5 million in general revenue sharing; $6.5 million from the inventory tax phase out and $12.8 million in reimbursements for the now aborted phase out of the motor vehicle excise tax for more than $24 million.
He said the purpose of the mathematical exercise was “to make sure everyone understands this is not an inconsequential amount of money to make up.”
In addition to Avedisian, Polisena and Fung, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton were in attendance.
In his 12 years as mayor, Avedisian said there have been open lines of communication between legislators and municipal leaders. What he noted as different is how state officers, including the state treasurer and the lieutenant governor as well as the governor, are soliciting what local government leaders have to say.
“State government is paying a lot of attention to the issues,” he said, “there’s much more discussion and they deserve credit.”
Last week the mayor met with House Speaker Gordon Fox to go over the same issues, he said. Several weeks ago, the municipal leaders met with Gov. Lincoln Chafee. All the meetings were closed to the media.
Paiva Weed called the gathering “an opportunity to hear about their concerns and to open lines of communication between staffs.”
Avedisian said yesterday he plans to follow up with Paiva Weed staff members.