By JOHN HOWELL Despite the pandemic and the havoc it has wreaked with many municipalities, Warwick is in good shape financially, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon told the Warwick Rotary Club Thursday. Solomon is no stranger to the club, which has held in-person
Despite the pandemic and the havoc it has wreaked with many municipalities, Warwick is in good shape financially, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon told the Warwick Rotary Club Thursday.
Solomon is no stranger to the club, which has held in-person weekly meetings since June. As with past Warwick mayors, Solomon is an honorary member of the club. On Thursday he was the guest speaker, following in the footsteps of independent candidate for mayor Frank Picozzi, who spoke earlier in the month.
Solomon underscored the AA/Stable rating given the city by S&P Global Rating in July as an endorsement of his administration and the city’s financial condition.
“The reason we were able to accomplish that is by doing more with less,” he said.
Observing he comes from the business sector and owns investments in the city, he said as mayor he can’t do all that he would like because of the constraints of contracts and “other things.”
But he continued, the city has maintained services throughout the pandemic. He added that his administration has been able to do it without increasing taxes.
By no means is the picture entirely bright. Solomon pointed to the impact of the pandemic on hotels, calling it a “bump in the road.” He held out the prospect of some “good news” about a major development in City Centre or the station district. He talked about his initiation of a coastal patrol using two boats donated to the city by the Department of Environmental Management and his acquisition of a used fire ladder truck with low mileage that normally would have cost $1.2 million for $25,000.
“This all took place in the last two years, it’s just beginning … I need two years to continue with the projects that I’ve started. And as I do that, my hope is to make an even better place … if we can make it so, future generations will stay in the city instead of move away and be part of the community.”
When it came to questions, club members asked about the status of the city audit; why landscaping of the Apponaug circulator had been neglected; what the city could expect in state payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT; and whether the city is prepared to foot the cost of pensions and other post-employment benefits.
Solomon said the city is on the way to finalizing the audit for the fiscal year ended June 31, 2020, well before the December deadline.
“How do I know how much money I’m making, how much money I’m losing? The way you do that is you keep counting your receipts. That wasn’t being done. That has been done since I became mayor … Our audit is already in the hands of the accountant. We’ve completed everything we had to internally. And we’ve assisted the school department where even their financials have been submitted to the accountant. I’ll give myself a pat on the back.”
On PILOT funding, Solomon noted the services provided state entities and how with COVID, the state used hotels for shelters and the city provided rescue services and security. “We’re going to be trying to reach out for more assistance than we’ve got,” he said.
On the question of pensions and costs relating to retirees, he said, “If I receive the honor to be reelected, I will also be negotiating the police and the municipal contracts. And my goal is, we’re all in this together. It’s for the benefit of the city. Times have changed. I know that there are things out there that have been set in stone for years. We should be able to make some changes that more or less level expenditures and take some of the weight off the local taxpayers.”
The failure to tend to the landscaping of the circulator, which was the focus of a Hummel Report in the Providence Journal, Solomon characterized of a story blown out of proportion for sensationalism.
“He [Jim Hummel] thought that I should stop everything and push COVID aside and deal with cutting grass and clippings. There’s more important things to deal with. But he was criticizing the city of Warwick,” Solomon said.
“You know, there’s some reporters that are like sincerely interested in the facts. And there are others that are just trying to create controversy. We just got this [the Apponaug circulator] turned over to us this year. And when it was turned over to us, they realized the plantings they used were the wrong plantings. So they changed the plantings, and it’s still wrong,” he said.
As for his campaign for reelection, Solomon vowed to stick to the issues.
“I will never be negative. I won’t get negative on anybody. You know, I got facts I can lay out there, but I don’t,” he said.