Some battles are won and others are lost.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson knows this, as an ordinance she authored in regards to altering the elected official pension fund unanimously reached first passage with an amendment at Monday night’s council meeting, and a resolution for a Warwick pool pass discount for disabled veterans was also collectively approved.
But another resolution she introduced to temporarily suspend property taxes charged for additions to existing commercial and residential structures was shot down 8-1. She was the sole “yes” vote.
“I feel that the City Council members missed the ticket on this one and I’m disappointed that I couldn’t sway them,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “They could have pulled the plug on it at any time if they didn’t feel there was going to be a significant return investment.”
At the meeting, she argued that the resolution would have been a good opportunity to increase revenue with regards to permits for the city, retain businesses, as well as to create jobs for construction workers during the economic downturn. According to the council, the state lost 2,000 jobs last month.
Further, she suggested introducing it as a pilot program for 2012. She said Cranston has a similar provision and has seen positive benefits.
“Instead of relying on the statistics that have been proven in Cranston, we look at the viability of having the program here,” said Vella-Wilkinson.
Resident Michelle Komar asked what the cost would be to taxpayers. Tax Assessor Ken Mallette said it’s difficult to project the tax impact. Finance Director Ernie Zmyslinski agreed and said it’s impossible to predict. He also said the fiscal note estimated roughly $50,000 in added tax revenues would be lost the first year; $100,000 the second year; $150,000 the third year; and $250,000 each year after.
Vella-Wilkinson said the cost per household, both residential and commercial, would be a total of $39.77 for five years.
But Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon pointed out it’s not that simple. He said it’s important to remember that more criteria is involved and that after five years there would be a $1 million cost in reduction in tax revenue and that money needs to be made up. The burden would fall on those who are financially struggling.
“The benefit will be on property owners that can afford to make expenditures and improvements,” Solomon said. “That cost would be shifted to property owners that don’t enjoy the benefits of being able to do that.”
Komar agreed and said, “I don’t want to be paying for someone else’s T.V. room addition.”
Greg Mancini, the executive director and general council for the Rhode Island Trades Council that represents contractors and unions, said the measure would stimulate the economy and that the cost of the endeavor is already in the budget. He feels it would be a long-term economic windfall for a short-term investment.
Solomon didn’t want to hear it, nor did Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice.
“Let’s round off the cost to $40,” he said. “We’re talking about increases with the water bill, the sewer bill, car taxes. It all adds up.”
Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla also spoke up and said he believes creating construction jobs may or may not be achieved. If so, they would only be temporary.
Yet, Vella-Wilkinson said construction positions are never permanent, as that’s the nature of the industry.
“For me that should not be a deal-breaker,” she said.
But it was a factor that encouraged the eight other council members to vote against it.
However, they all favored her resolution for a Warwick pool pass discount at McDermott on Sandy Lane for disabled veterans. The yearly fee, which runs from September through August, was reduced from $150 to $80, and the monthly fee was reduced from $20 to $10. Both are senior citizen discounts.
“I’m really happy about the pool pass,” she said Tuesday. In fact, Mayor Scott Avedisian approved the law and two veterans, including Chief Petty Officer (Ret.) Ken Smith and SSG Timothy Howe, attended to watch him sign it at City Hall yesterday.
In other council action, an ordinance amending the elected official pension fund, which pushed to increase the years of credible service from six to 10 years, reached first passage.
“This is a step in the right direction,” she said Tuesday.
At the meeting, resident Rick Cascella, who served with resident Bill Russo, Merolla and Zmyslinski on a committee appointed by Council President Bruce Place to research the issue, said he believed the majority of people who run for City Council do so because they care about the well-being of the city and not for a pension. He felt if they serve 10 years, they deserve it.
After he spoke, Vella-Wilkinson suggested eliminating pensions for elected officials altogether and it was approved 8-1, with Solomon in opposition.
He said that while he’s “appalled” by past members who served on the City Council, reached six years and retired because they received the pension, it’s unfair to take away the “small” benefits to deserving members who served at least 10 years.
“I’ve seen a few come through and those people are not here for the public,” he said. “They only thought about their self-interest. That’s not right.”
Instead of eliminating the pension, he suggested to extend the time of service, as taking it away would make the position appealing only to the wealthy.
DelGiudice agreed and recommended it be re-amended to 10 years. The council then unanimously voted to approve the amendment.
On Tuesday, Vella-Wilkinson said she was content with this decision, as her fallback opinion was 10 years. She said when she first introduced the legislation in the spring, she was concerned the council was going to refuse it on the stand but was pleasantly surprised to have their support.
In addition, she said she wrote the ordinance because she feels it’s important to lead by example. She doesn’t plan on accepting the pension even if she qualifies for it.