Mix of politics, business at council meeting
It was a mix of politics and city business at Monday’s City Council meeting.
On the political side, Richard Langseth, who recently declared that he is a candidate for Ward 6 Councilman, told incumbent Donna Travis he wouldn’t run after all.
And, as for business, the council approved a resolution requesting that the city reinstate a health care consultant, an ordinance regarding pension fund contributions and an ordinance that will make it easier for the city to sell land that the city is holding because of the lack of tax payments. Those actions came after the council unanimously approved 3-year contracts for police, fire and municipal employees.
So, what’s Langseth’s reasoning? Mainly, he doesn’t want to get involved in a primary, as Catharine Leach, 30, an office manager for a homeland security contractor in Quonset, also declared as a Republican.
“I already had a primary two years ago, remember?” Langseth said in reference to his campaign for mayor last term, in which he lost to Mayor Scott Avedisian. “There are people that want me to run but let her do her thing,” he said of Leach. “We’re not going to fix things by having the same people.”
With that, he was asked if he is in support of Leach, to which he said, “I’m in support of what’s best for Warwick. I wish her the best. Donna’s always been a good friend – different party, but good friend.”
Langseth said he finds it promising that a “young person” is seeking office. In fact, he said he would like to see more younger people step up.
“We should encourage all young people to get involved in politics,” he said.
Langseth also said he is hopeful for a “good election,” which he defined as a time when “all the issues come out and you have a Democrat running against a Republican and they debate and discuss the issues so the people can find the best candidate.”
Regardless of who is elected, he hopes she is focused on getting taxes under control and gives more attention to the Bay.
“The city needs to be more involved with CRMC [Coastal Resources Management Council] and making the Bay a better place,” said Langseth.
In other business, a resolution requesting that the city reinstate a health care consultant, sponsored by Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla, was approved 6-3, with Travis, Council President Bruce Place and Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono voting in opposition. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson asked to be signed on as a co-sponsor.
The council proposed that the funding, an amount of $30,000, would come out of the line item for arbitration costs that had been set aside in the FY13 budget in the event that contracts weren’t settled.
Merolla said he feels having a health care consultant is crucial to the city, as it has resulted in cost savings in the past.
“I believe the last time we had a health care consultant, it was about a $30,000 investment and we talked about savings of about $1 million or more,” Merolla said at the meeting. “I think it’s well worth the investment, not to mention that they could have helped us craft the language in the bid process.”
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon agreed.
“This is good legislation,” he said. “This was something that was put forth years ago and it was very helpful to the taxpayers.”
However, in an e-mail exchange, Avedisian said he did not sign the legislation because “we have just entered into a three-year contract with the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust for Risk Management to be the administrator for our health care contract. The contract utilizes The Trust to provide health care that is offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. For the next three years, The Trust will offer their actuaries and staff to the city. There is no reason to hire a health care consultant at this point.”
Also, an ordinance regarding pension fund contributions, sponsored by Vella-Wilkinson, was unanimously approved for second passage. Place, Colantuono, Travis, Ward 8 Councilman Ray Gallucci and Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan requested to be signed on as sponsors.
While the city has been meeting annual requirements for years, that hasn’t always been the case. According to the verbiage in the ordinance, the “city shall make its annual required contribution to each of its pension funds every year and shall not divert pension funds or funds necessary for the annual required contribution to the general fund.”
It continues, “However, if an extreme or unforeseen circumstance prevents the city from making its annual required contribution to any of its pension funds or requires a diversion of pension funds, such nonpayment of the contribution or diversion of funds shall only occur with the approval of the City Council after a public hearing.”
The council gave second passage to an ordinance that will make it easier for the city to sell land it is holding because of the lack of tax payments, sponsored by Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice.
The ordinance assures that an individual who desires to purchase a piece of property held by the city for prior taxes is no longer obligated to pay fees to clear the property, the title, back taxes and the appraised property value. Rather, the individual will be liable to either fund the back taxes or value of property, whichever is higher, but not both, plus all other fees.
The goal, said DelGiudice, is to get these properties back on the tax rolls without overtaxing potential buyers.
Finally, a resolution to the General Assembly for a charter change to the School Department, sponsored by Place on behalf of Avedisian, was moved to the pending file.
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.