To the Editor:
How much more are you willing to pay to live in Warwick? Would you be happy with maximum tax increases every year for the next several years, while your services are diminished? Get ready, because that is exactly what is coming your (our) way.
You don’t have to be a Harvard MBA to read the city budget and figure out that that the benefits that the city pays to its employees are simply unsustainable. We have been hearing from our elected officials for quite some time that this is the year of the taxpayer, however, the only obvious detail that we can surmise is that the taxpayer only plays a roll in the funding formula.
As an example, in July, the city council voted to ratify two new city contracts (Police and DPW) in the absence of a five-year fiscal plan that the city has paid an outside auditing company to perform. Who in private business would increase their overhead without knowing how their revenue stream would be affected and if in fact these benefit increases could be made in the absence of the data needed to make the analysis? That is exactly what five city council members voted to do with your money last July.
After each of the five placated to the union members that were the overwhelming majority of patrons at the meeting, my council member made the ludicrous statement saying, “what’s a five year plan?” Go to the following link and listen to the nonsensical comments made by the Ward 7 councilman while trying to justify the ratification of a contract that “you” pay for, in the absence of a completed study that “you” paid for. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS8OaKfzC2Y) Scroll to the 1-hour, 7-minute mark and listen for 90 seconds.
The fact is that there should never be a statement made by an elected official stating “that these employees ‘deserve’ these raises.” Municipal employees only deserve what the community can afford. When taxes continue to rise, liabilities continue to rise, and assets continue to decrease, the community can afford no more. That is precisely where we are in Warwick.
One union contract is left to be settled. The fire department. This contract has been held due to certain “accounting abnormalities” that have been discovered recently. What we do know is that this department has never operated within its extremely generous budgets that have been gifted by the taxpayer. Each year the department grossly over exceeds it overtime budget, yet each year each the city council and the administration do nothing to ensure oversight of the department.
I have publicly stated many times that the city contracts are not scrutinized by the elected officials, nor are they even understood. Contracts, once presented, should be held for 30 days, publicized, and the residents who are PAYING FOR THEM, deserve the opportunity to question these contracts.
As in the case of the recent Warwick Fire Department contract “abnormalities” that have been noted, we have seen coordinated and calculated schemes that have been instituted without the knowledge of the city council, that have usurped the ratification process, and that have been cause to unjustly financially reward members of the department to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of the findings of members of the general public and business community, these findings have been made public, a CPA firm was hired to analyze the data to come up with a number that was wrongfully paid out, yet after 11 months of analysis, that number still has not been made public. Why?
More importantly, how does this department continue to get away with these kinds of manipulations while they are supposedly under the watch of a department head, commonly referred to as the chief? The answer is very simple. When you have been the beneficiary of a scheme in a union setting, and you have also been the union president whose function is to ensure the maximum amount of compensation for its members, and you now become the chief of the department, there is no way that you are going to change your behavior.
We have had chiefs of the department in the past who were also at one time the union presidents, that benefited from these “schemes” and continue to carry on business as usual. In fact, the current acting chief, Chief Fontenault, was also a former union president. He did also in fact benefit from the unused sick pay scheme that Mayor Solomon ended (long after it was brought to his attention), has benefited from the change of shift policy, and during the 3-year wage freeze period, happened to make an additional $55,249.20 over and above his wage, during the wage freeze period.
The data obtained by the city clearly indicates that during the wage freeze period every member of the department made substantially more money than his actual salary. Overtime was through the roof, huge amounts of sick time, but virtually every member of the department eligible for the unused sick pay received payment for either perfect attendance or near perfect attendance. Yet the members continually brag how much in concessions that they gave back. It simply is untrue as documented by official city records and it simply does not add up. In my opinion this behavior clearly shows grotesque manipulation of the taxpayers dollars.
The question is – how does it end? If the new administration continues the failed policy of the past and hires the chief from within, the poor manipulative behavior will certainly continue. I am perplexed why after nine months in office, the new mayor has not publicly announced a search for a new department chief that comes from outside the department, and outside of Rhode Island for that matter. We need an administrator, not another fireman.
Prior to being the Mayor, Councilman Solomon chastised this department at great lengths at budget hearings. Where is the immediate action now that he has the corner office? For a very long time, the management of this department are not post-secondary educated, are not from the business community, are not formally trained in business or financial management, and all have been direct beneficiaries of a poorly fiscally run department, at great cost to the taxpayers. This practice must end, and this administration must see to it that it ends and ends rapidly.
The time for change is long overdue in this city. It is time for the new mayor to address the residents with the data relative to the financial state of the city and be truthful, no matter what the facts and realities are. Those of us that are paying attention and have a business/financial background already know the truth, so you will not be able to sugar coat it. The time for change is here. Make it happen.