November 29, 2014
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School Department charter change held for further study

A resolution to the General Assembly requesting a November referendum on possible charter changes for the School Committee, introduced by Council President Bruce Place on behalf of Mayor Scott Avedisian, was pushed to the back burner for the City Council Monday. Place asked that it be held until July 9 for further study.

According to the resolution, the council and Avedisian believe the current method used to adopt the school committee’s budget bears little, if any, responsibility and accountability to taxpayers.

Should the resolution gain council and legislative approval, voters would be asked on the November ballot whether to maintain the existing five-member elected committee, replace it with a committee appointed by the council and mayor or give the committee the power of taxation.

In other business, a resolution, which requests directors and department heads to prepare two budgets for the council, passed unanimously.

The resolution, sponsored by Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan, asks directors and department heads to compile a standard budget, as well as a second budget in which they reduce their request by 2 to 5 percent in favor of a no tax increase for taxpayers in the upcoming fiscal budget.

Donovan said he thinks it will be beneficial to the council.

“It basically would give us another tool in the toolbox for the council to do their job and alleviate the tax burden,” he said at the meeting.

Another resolution favoring state legislation allowing for online notification to replace newspaper legal advertising passed on a 6-3 vote, with Donovan, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon and Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla voting against it. Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono sponsored the resolution on behalf of Avedisian.

The council approved the resolution because they anticipate they can save taxpayer money if they shift from running ads in print publications to the web.

“I support the legislation and one of the reasons is with improvements from zoning and the building department, there are a lot of regulations that we have to publish in the local paper and it can be done a lot faster, more efficiently and much cheaper,” said Place. “We’re in the world of electronic media, so I recommend favorable action.”

But, in Council Chambers, Solomon strongly suggested voting against it. While he said he appreciates the intent of the legislation, he feels it will isolate a segment of society, including the elderly, as well as people who cannot afford computers and other electronic devices.

“Though it’s an additional cost, which is beneficial to the Providence Journal and the Warwick Beacon, those individuals will be excluded from information that they used to readily view in these publications,” said Solomon. “I think if this decision is going to be implemented to save costs, maybe legislation should be to cap the cost the Providence Journal and the Warwick Beacon can charge in publishing public information legal notices. This is one time that I feel the expenditure is necessary.”

Nevertheless, the resolution was approved.

A resolution to reinstate the Warwick Night Program, which was sponsored by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, failed on a 6-3 vote.

Vella-Wilkinson said while it would have cost the city $45,000, as each Ward is allotted $5,000 to fund police details in residential areas, she felt it would have been a good investment.

She also said the large amount of complaints she receives about vehicles speeding and cutting through neighborhoods influenced her to attempt to resurrect the program, which Avedisian cut more than four years ago as a means to reduce the budget.

“Considering the number of calls I get, and I’m sure the rest of the council members get regarding the enforcement of public safety, gives me reason to believe that Ward 3 isn’t any different from the rest of the Wards,” Vella-Wilkinson said.

Yet, her fellow council members expressed their concerns about funding. The Warwick Police Department does not plan to finance the program, as they already submitted their budget to the mayor, and the council’s budget has already been submitted, too.

For Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, that was not an issue.

“The fact of the matter is it addresses certain streets that we know are big problems,” she said. “I would hope we would find a spot for $45,000 in the budget and turn it into hundreds of thousands of dollars in aspects.”

Other council members didn’t want to hear it. Among them was Solomon.

“The Warwick Police Department has always been responsive to these areas,” he said. “I’d rather spend $45,000 on advertising so the elderly population who don’t have access to computers can find out what’s going on through publications.”

With that, Vella-Wilkinson said, “If that $45,000 saves us from one fatality, it’s money well spent.”

Also approved was a resolution in support of open space and recreation bond issue; a resolution sponsored by Merolla requesting that the city actuarial firm come before the council May 25 to discuss its most recent reports; and an ordinance to increase the senior tax exemption for residential real estate from $10,000 to $12,000. According to Tax Collector and Assessor Ken Mallette, this would cut roughly $377,000 from the budget.


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