Too Big to Fail Towns?
Along with a table with the statewide results, Providence Business News has an article describing the results of “fiscal stress tests” that a state panel ran for cities and towns:
Pawtucket, North Providence, East Providence, Central Falls, Warwick and West Warwick are in the most serious trouble, the Municipal Fiscal Stress Task Force reported Friday after examining municipal reserves, property tax rates, pension liabilities and public employee health care benefits, among other factors. …
Task force members — made up of financial experts, CPA and several municipal finance directors — have asked that a permanent commission be formed to monitor local spending and develop recommendations.
Peder Schaefer, chief of the Department of Revenue’s municipal finance division and a member of the task force, told reporters Thursday that the report would lead to legislation that would “beef up oversight by the state.”
For instance, one bill that being worked on would require local school departments to file quarterly financial reports with the R.I. Department of Education, he said. Another would give municipal councils or chief executives the authority to approve school department spending plans, administration officials said.
I remain skeptical about the urge to consolidate and control from above. The state is hardly in a condition of fiscal health, and residents have more access to change their local government than they do their municipal leadership. Indeed, the policies of the state are a contributing factor to the difficulties of the towns. It would be a mistake to assume that the people leveraging this greater influence, at the state level, would be the same people who took the initiative to study the numbers in the first place.
I say this as an active taxpayer in the most fiscally stressed “rural” town, by far. Tiverton’s Fiscal Stress Test score is in company with the state’s “urban” communities and fares only slightly better than the “urban ring” municipalities about which the state is so concerned.