By JOHN HOWELL Peder Schaefer is coming back to Warwick to a job he had 22 years ago, not that he ever left. He keeps his sailboat in Warwick Cove. He will be at the helm of city finances soon after Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi takes the oath of office on
Peder Schaefer is coming back to Warwick to a job he had 22 years ago, not that he ever left. He keeps his sailboat in Warwick Cove.
He will be at the helm of city finances soon after Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi takes the oath of office on Jan. 5 at noon on the steps of City Hall. Former mayor and Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Flaherty will administer the oath of office.
Picozzi is delighted to have a veteran of municipal finances in a key role. On Tuesday, Schaefer announced in a Zoom weekly conference call with members of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns he would be leaving his post as that organization’s associate director to become Warwick’s finance director. He has been at the League since March 2010. Prior to working at the League, Schaefer was the head of the Division of Municipal Finance for the state budget office.
“I was looking for something different,” Schaefer said Tuesday. He learned of the position from the openings posted on the League’s online site by the Picozzi transition team. From a procedural standpoint, Schaefer, 71, expects to find the director of finance’s job to be much the same, making for an easy understanding of the tasks required of the position.
“The [city] charter hasn’t changed,” he said. Also, while just about everyone he worked with 22 years ago in City Hall has moved on, Schaefer has a good knowledge of the staff in the finance office and beyond having worked with many of them at the league. His lobbying efforts on behalf of the League have put in contact with statewide office holders, the state’s congressional delegation and state legislators. He knows them and they know him.
Soon after his election, Picozzi labeled the finance director, solicitor and chief of staff as key positions he aimed to have in place going into the office. He conducted interviews from his campaign headquarters on Buttonwoods Avenue, announcing two weeks ago the appointments of attorney Michael Ursillo as solicitor and Susan Nahabedian Ayrassin, outgoing personnel director in Cranston, as chief of staff.
At the time, he excitedly said that Schaefer was considering the job of finance director. It looked to be the perfect fit, a seasoned professional who knows Warwick and has far reaching state connections.
In an interview Wednesday, Picozzi said Schaefer was his first choice for finance director and “there is no one I would rather have.”
He said current and former city employees are excited for Schaefer’s return.
Schaefer has thoughts regarding initiatives and issues that should be addressed, although he was not prepared to talk about them until reviewing them with Picozzi. Compared to some other municipalities, Schaefer said the mayor and City Council have enjoyed a good working relationship. He views that as a positive. He’s not as definitive about the relationship between the city and schools, which he called “unique.” He pointed out for years the city and schools have battled over the budget. He’s seen it in other municipalities, but not at the level it is in Warwick.
“There’s a culture of tension between the city and schools,” he said.
Schaefer has been in contact with city finance personnel, is complementary of their work. He doubts the fiscal year 2020 audit will be completed by the Dec. 31 deadline because of some inconsistencies in the pension account. Otherwise, he said it looks good.
In a press release Wednesday, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon announced that the audit is expected to show a surplus of nearly $3.8 million for the year (see separate story).
Schaefer foresees fiscal clouds on the horizon from the pandemic.
He projects declines in revenues from the meals, beverage, hotel and airport parking taxes. Long range, he points out that the hot single-family home market and the slump in the retail and office markets, no less the drop in hotel occupancy [Warwick has 17 hotels] that will result in lower hotel values, will bring about shifts in the next revaluation.
“What will be the commercial value after all of this [the pandemic]?” he asks.
Knowing Warwick as he does, Schaefer anticipates there may be those who charge him of returning to pump up his pension.
As an employee, Schaefer will pay into the pension, but he’s not in the system now.
“I pulled the money out when I left,” he said.
As for what he will be paid, Schaefer said the post was advertised at $125,000 and that’s what he’ll get. In reaching an agreement with Picozzi, Schaefer said he committed to completing two budget cycles with the administration.
Reflecting on his career, Schaefer said, “I’m now returning to my roots, the basement of City Hall.”