Council budget holds line on taxes

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After more than four hours of deliberation Saturday, the City Council unanimously voted to cut $5 million from Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $310.4 million budget and for the first time in at least 18 years hold the line on taxes.

“This is a big thing. The taxpayers need a break,” said Finance Committee chair Ed Ladouceur in a telephone interview Saturday evening.

In an interview Sunday, City Council President Joseph Solomon commended the hard work of his colleagues, calling is a “joint effort” with an outcome “for the benefit of all taxpayers.” Solomon feels holding the line on taxes could send a message to businesses considering to locate in Warwick that the city “runs a tight ship” and that they would want to be here.

The council achieved a no tax increase budget by cutting department fuel accounts, eliminating seven positions in the fire department budget, reducing fire department overtime, eliminating or reducing salary increases for some administrative posts including the library director and increasing the projected level of tax collections from 98.5 to 99 percent. That half percentage increased revenues by $1,181,271, said Ladouceur.

Less than projected rates of tax collections are seen as a factor in producing the city’s single year largest surplus on record – more than $10 million for Fiscal Year 2016 – and for fueling a projected surplus expected to exceed $2 million when the current fiscal year ends on June 30. Reserves were $18.5 million as of June 30, 2016, according to the city audit.

Key to reaching an agreement, Ladouceur said, was Solomon’s compromise on school funding. For the first time in more than five years, Avedisian proposed substantially increasing the school budget that basically has been level funded. The mayor’s budget called for a $165 million school budget, an increase of $4 million, which was $2 million less than what schools requested. To ensure there was sufficient funding for a teacher contract, Avedisian said he had an agreement with Superintendent Philip Thornton to reserve $2.4 million for that purpose.

The council budget cuts out the additional $3 million Avedisian budgeted for schools and proposed taking $3 million from the rainy day fund when and if a teachers’ agreement is reached. Mediation between the parties continued last week with additional sessions planned for this week, according to Avedisian, who acted as the facilitator in the absence of mediator Vincent Ragosta. Ladouceur said Solomon’s provision would guarantee that the money is available for a teachers’ agreement because “a contract needs to be settled.”

Ladouceur sees efficiency and greater attention on tax collections as making the budget possible.

The council’s budget now goes back to the mayor.

Solomon said, “I’m hoping the mayor can join with us in what nine council members thought was the right thing to do.”

In an email, the mayor said he expects to have an answer to the council by today.

A big slice of the council cuts came out of the fire department with reductions in the salary and overtime accounts. Ladouceur said about $900,000 was sliced from salaries and overtime with the elimination of seven positions in the department. Word that the council was looking to eliminate positions promoted a flurry of calls Saturday that the council’s action would result in the layoff of seven firefighters. Ladouceur also said the council’s budget eliminates the position of a third chief.

Fire Chief James McLaughlin had an explanation Saturday night. He said when he drafted the budget the department had 227 uniformed personnel, or seven more than the department’s full complement at 220. Since the budget was drafted seven firefighters have retired, meaning that the department is at 220. He doesn’t see the reduction of seven as a problem. However, he notes that an assistant chief – Edward Hannon – has been named and is in that position. This gives the department a leadership staff of McLaughlin as chief and James Kenney and Hannon as assistant chiefs.

As for the cut in overtime, Ladouceur said he recalled promises by retired chief Edmund Armstrong that with added personnel the department could rein in overtime costs only to have the department go over budget.

“This has become a habit,” he said, advocating that the department live within its budget.

On Saturday evening McLaughlin said staffing at 220 provides the “floaters” needed to cover vacations without incurring overtime. That would contain overtime costs with the exception of unforeseen instances such as sickness where staffing drops below contract requirements.

As for the rainy day fund that the mayor planned to tap for $3 million, the council reduced the draw down to $1.2 million.

As has been the issue in other budget hearings, schools and the fire department were major issues this year.

At Wednesday’s budget hearing, citizen Rob Cote raised issues over the practice of firefighters substituting for each other, thereby enabling firefighters to extend vacations or, as Cote claimed, work two jobs. Waving papers as he stood at the podium, Cote said he had the evidence of a firefighter working a job at URI while also holding down his Warwick job using the system of substitutions. Cote said he was keeping the name of the individual confidential, but that he would provide the information to the administration.

While it once was prevalent, Chief McLaughlin said fewer and fewer firefighters are running businesses on the side and he said substitution is not to be used so a firefighter can also run a business. Mayor Scott Avedisian was alarmed by the allegation, saying the city would investigate. Also, Cote said his examination of fire department records found that at any one time more than six firefighters were on vacation, thereby creating a situation when overtime would be needed to meet minimum manning as required by contract. McLaughlin vigorously denied that is happening, to which Cote said he had the evidence as provided by the department records.

Cote also talked of the practice of paying firefighters up to 15 of their annual 20 sick days if they go unused. He said his examination of department records show virtually all those who meet eligibility requirements for the paid unused sick days are paid. He said his research “points to one thing where the system is being gamed.”

On Friday the mayor and the chief refuted Cote’s claims using the information Cote provided. In the four instances Cote’s cites, not all of the personnel are uniformed firefighters. The others are civilian dispatchers.

The chief explained that “floaters” (firefighters not assigned to a particular shift) are used to fill in for those on vacation on a predetermined schedule.

“There are always no more than six on vacation [at a given time]. Allegations that there are more are completely false,” he said.

Avedisian said he requested information about the firefighter also allegedly working a job at URI, but that Cote said it had cost him a lot to get the paperwork from the department and that he wanted $61.50 to turn it over. Avedisian accused Cote of lying about having to pay for the information, saying it had been given to him by Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla.

“He’s got information about fraud and he’s [Cote] not turning it over,” he said. Avedisian added, “as we get more allegations we’ll investigate.”

During the budget hearing, Merolla said he felt he had been misled over how many personnel the department needs. He said that prior chiefs had pegged the number at a complement of 209 and 217 and now McLaughlin is saying 220. Observing that the fire department has gotten new equipment and buildings, schools are in need of repairs and students and teachers are lacking equipment.

“This council and administration have been overly generous,” Merolla said, making the argument, “It’s for the fire department to do for us…it can’t just be one way. We don’t have enough money to go around.”

Merolla, who consistently has voted against the budget, joined his colleagues in supporting the council budget. Both Ladouceur and Solomon praised the efforts of the four new members of the council – Richard Corley, Timothy Howe, Jeremy Rix and Steve McAllister –for their diligence in analyzing the budget and raising questions during the hearing process. Ladouceur also gave a shout out to council liaison Joanne Cournoyer for her work in researching issues raised and requests for information during the budget process.

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Warwick Man

And the Captain (cote) is exposed as the fraud he is... lies lies and more lies... keep trying Buddy boy

Tuesday, June 6
Thecaptain

All of the documents that I referenced are from the City of Warwick which I had to pay for and had to pull teeth to get as the mayor and fire chief create numerous obstacles when obtaining documents. Here is how the fire chief intentionally misled the council members:

1. He told the city council 2 years in a row that the floaters cover the overtime at straight time to save the city money. Unfortunately he lied as the accountability documents indicate that in the first fiscal quarter (90 days) there were 1105 vacation days and every one was covered at the overtime rate. Then he backpedaled.

2. He told the city council that there were a total of 1200 sick days so far this year, but his own letter to me signed by him, he states that there were 1915 sick days up until May 21st. When he was shown the document with his signature on it he backpedaled.

3. Under access to public records he stated on paper that no substitution or change of shift documents exist. That was an out right lie. Form 109 change of shift is the document. Bottom line is that he was deceptive.

As far as the documents. Mayor, you took the bait. The request for $61.50 was made to bust the mayors chops as every time I or anyone else asks for documents we are told that the cost is $15/hr of research, the first hour is free, and it is 15 cents per page to copy. That was a joke meant to get under the mayors paper thin skin and it worked perfectly.

As far as the vacation coverage. The chief stated " no more than 6 "men" are on vacation at any time. When you look at the accountability sheets there are numerous cases of 7 & 8 "men" on vacation. Unfortunately, the abbreviation FAO next to the mans name is not common knowledge that that abbreviation represents a dispatcher. Legitimate mistake on my part, however, the documents clearly indicate more than 6 "men" on vacation. So beat me up on that point if you wish. However, here is an instance were 7 fire fighters were on vacation. This data came from the accountability sheets of 9/12/16.

September 12/2016

Vacation:

Capt. Michael Fontenault vacation

Pvt. Michael Mcallister vacation

Lt. George Lusignan vacation

Pvt. Michael Cabral vacation

RLt. Kevin Rivet vacation

Pvt. Randall Hoxie vacation

Pvt. Alex Torres vacation

At the end of the day, the last 4 chiefs have all testified that overtime will be reduced and it never is. This chief stated that the 8 extra men cost the city 1 million dollars and that they saved $300,000 is overtime. So we spent 1 million, plus benefits, to save $300,000? Smart move.

But what neither this article or the chief or the mayor have addressed, is how a man can be off for 12 days and call in sick on his first day back from vacation and get paid for the day and not have the day reduced from his accrued sick time. I wonder when they will discuss that point. By the way everyone, the department had 680 sick days in the first 90 days of the fiscal year, 492 substitutions, and 1105 vacation days. Every vacation day was covered at the overtime rate. Not withstanding the value of this years sick time amounts to in excess of $900,000 that the chief refused to itemize in a line item, even after the council passed an ordinance to do so. What are they hiding.

Enough is enough. Math doesn't lie ! So kill the messenger, let the personal attacks fly.

Tuesday, June 6
Warwick Man

Captain why don't you ask them to explain it to you like the three year old you act like. There is no scam you just simply can't figure it out. I'm not going to berate you. I simply ask that you sit down with crayons if you'd like and let someone explain how the non scamming works. Maybe you do know yet still want to lie about it. If so go right ahead if it were a scam the police would have been investigating it long ago...

Tuesday, June 6
Thecaptain

Warwick man firefighter,

Again with the personal attacks. I have the documents. Maybe you don't understand that the math doesn't add up. Maybe you can explain why the chief gave 2 different answers to the number of sick days. Maybe you can answer why the chief has discarded all the form 109 change of shift forms, maybe you can explain why the fire department is the only department that does not list the sick time in a separate line item which is required by ordinance and has never been done? Maybe you can explain why the sick time in the fire department is 8.7 times hire than the police department and 7.9 times hire than the DPW? Not to mention this change of shift crap that is abusive and not followed. Maybe you can explain these things to a three year old and they might believe it, but it aint happening Bub. So I guess i just manufactured all of the documents, fabricated a bunch of lies, and cant perform simple math. I guess I also cant read the documents that the city provided. This crap has been happening for years and we all know it. So stop with the defense. The chief lost all credibility with his lies to the council.

Tuesday, June 6
richardcorrente

Cut taxes - cut spending.

Hey, maybe some City Council members were listening to me. Maybe they already felt that way themselves. Maybe they felt that way and my campaign reinforced it. We will never know but here is what happened. The 2017 City Council held the line on taxes for the first time in 18 years. The critics said it couldn't be done AND YOU DID IT!

As a citizen and taxpayer of the City of Warwick I say "Thank you."

Thank you Rick, Joe, Steve, Jeremy, Tim, Steve, Donna, Joe, and Ed.

I have called myself "The Taxpayers Mayor" because I felt that I am a servant of the Warwick Taxpayers. Now, I have a new phrase. The City Council is now "The Taxpayers City Council".

Congratulations to nine of the hardest working Council people Warwick has ever had!

Happy Summer everyone.

Happy Summer Taxpayers City Council.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, June 6
Justanidiot

Cut texas cut spinding. gib da teachers a raise

explain

and please show yer werk

Thursday, June 8
richardcorrente

Dear Justanidiot,

As always, your comments have wisdom, even though you misspell a word or two. (maybe three)

I have always supported the teachers need for a contract. They have always been willing to sit-and-negotiate. The School Committee (SC) has been the ones dragging their feet. Should they get paid more? Should they get paid less? I don't know because I don't see what the two sides see. Here's what I do know. They have waited almost three years. They deserve a new contract. The $160,000,000+- school budget doesn't go to the teachers. It goes to the SC. Maybe Warwick should put someone like you in charge. Maybe we should have one budget for the teachers and a separate one for the SC. But our charter requires that we give all the money to the SC and hope for the best. It just doesn't make sense. Warwick needs a home rule charter. If we had one we could dictate the changes we need.

One thing we can all be grateful for: Taxes are NOT going up for the first time IN EIGHTEEN YEARS!!! I will take a little credit for that. After all, I campaigned for over 700 days in a row on a "cut taxes - cut spending" platform, but it was the 13,278 voters that deserve the most credit. By voting for me they voted for my message. Our City Council heard it and even the Mayor couldn't stop us, calling himself "a political realist". And for the first time in 18 years we didn't have a tax increase.

You're welcome Justanidiot. Keep on working on those spelling skills.

Happy Summer Justanidiot.

Happy Summer everyone

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, June 9
Thecaptain

The only thing you can take credit for is for not paying your taxes.

Saturday, June 10