Legislator asks airport to pay full cost of city services
According to the city administration, police and fire services rendered to Green Airport is costing the city about $1.5 million a year.
Yet, as Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson notes, the airport is paying $500,000 under an agreement reached in 1988. Based on that information, Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would hike the $500,000 to $1.4 million. The city receives upwards of $1 million in airport parking revenues.
In another measure also relating to the airport, Vella-Wilkinson introduced a resolution for remediation of an old landfill that is part of the airport property.
Despite reasoning that the Rhode Island Airport Corporation should pay more to offset what the city has lost in property taxes with the purchase of homes to expand the airport, Vella-Wilkinson holds little hope that the bill will fly this year. First, the session is winding down and, second, state funds are tight.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said Friday he would like to see RIAC cover the cost of services rendered by the city, but allocating those funds is difficult under airport regulations. He explained the Federal Aviation Administration closely regulates what could be considered a “diversion” of airport funds.
“The airport is only allowed to pay for services rendered,” he said.
Additionally, complicating the issue, the $500,000 is paid by the state though the PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program, even though the money comes from the airport. With the legislative leadership budgeting for car tax relief, a scaled back free tuition program on top of a projected $134 million revenue shortfall, both Vella-Wilkinson and Avedisian don’t see much chance for an increased Warwick payment.
Avedisian pointed out that passage of Vella-Wilkinson’s bill would qualify the city for additional funds, but it doesn’t guarantee it would receive them. Vella-Wilkinson suggests payments to Warwick could be increased incrementally.
Vella-Wilkinson also introduced a resolution (2017-H 5502) that would approve remediation and/or monitoring of the Truk-Away landfill site, a former landfill that was accessed by Industrial Drive and bordered airport property. RIAC acquired the landfill and closed it as it was an attraction for seagulls. Before its closure, the landfill was considered as a source of pollutants to Buckeye Brook. The resolution would appropriate $500,000 for the project and require quarterly reports to made to the city of Warwick.
“The Truk-Away landfill has long been identified as a suspected hazardous waste disposal site,” said Vella-Wilkinson. “It is surrounded by wetlands on three sides. We need the Department of Administration to complete a site investigation to determine the environmental conditions in accordance with state and federal regulations. While the Department of Transportation has maintained a temporary cap, the DOA has not authorized the expenditures to proceed with the process to test and mitigate the impact of the landfill site.”
Vella-Wilkinson was also asked about airport property south of the realigned Main Avenue. Steve Creta, a resident of the area, recollects that RIAC promised to put walking trails in the area. He points out that trees have been cleared and that basically the area has been leveled.
Vella-Wilkinson recollected that former RIAC president and CEO Kevin Dillon talked of having trails in the area as part of the agreement for an extension of Runway 5 from 7,100 to 8,700 feet.
The lack of walking trails and the appearance of the area is not the only issue the legislator has with RIAC. She noted that the agency promised to return a lot of the land it acquired on Airport and Post Roads for potential expansion to the tax rolls now that it isn’t going to be used by the airport. That hasn’t happened, she said.
“The airport is not being good neighbors anymore,” she said.