Special Meeting of the Woonsocket City Council
Once you start covering one of these civic stories, you have to seem them through, so here am I at tonight’s special Sunday night meeting of the Woonsocket City Council, to discuss the aftermath of the General Assembly’s tabling of the supplemental tax bill…
[7:02] Meeting called to order.
[7:03] Budget commission resolution is up first.
[7:04] Mayor Fontaine speaks 1st. Recounting the short-term cash-flow problems of the school dept. They should be able to get through one more pay period, with regularly scheduled state aid. After that, the well runs dry.
[7:06] $4.6M debt service payment is due on the city-side of the budget, in early July. General Assembly inaction endangers meeting that.
[7:07] Budget commission powers would enable an acceleration of state aid, that would reduce the short term fiscal stress on the city.
[7:08] Says Rep. Baldell-Hunt’s assertion that a budget commission would be appointed under any circumstance is false.
[7:09] Assertion that false information was given to House and Senate leaders is also false. Mayor Fontaine was taken aback that such a comment was made.
[7:10] No state reps in attendance, by the way, as far I can tell.
[7:10] If the council passes the resolution, his office will support it.
[7:11] Councilman Moreau asks the city solicitor if he and councilman DuBois, as former employees, can vote on this resolution.
[7:12] City solicitor says since no specific benefit is specified, there’s no conflict of interest to worry about.
[7:16] Councilman Jalette wants to be made Council President, so he can have the seat on the budget commission, if a budget a commission is appointed.
[7:18] Councilman Gendron says we’re here tonight because of inappropriate actions by our General Assembly. Seven people who live in a city, overseeing a Mayor living in the city should be making these decisions. Not one of them was doing anything different then what they thought was best for this city. That security isn’t there, if a budget commission is appointed.
[7:22] Councilman Beauchamp cites lack of communication as a problem, thinks at least 2 members of the Woonsocket GA delegation didn’t really know what was going on.
[7:23] Councilman Moreau agrees with sentiments of Councilmen Gendron and Beauchamp. The City has an obligation to pay its debts to the people who are owed money.
[7:25] Councilman Brien is in total opposition to “any state interference”. Says Woonsocket has significant shortages in cash flow, because the school department has been underfunded by $7M.
[7:27] Woonsocket should have known it was facing a fiscal tsunami at least a year ago. The cancer that has been affecting the city’s fiscal well being is the police and fire pension fund. Suggests making something a Federal tax issue, to make it potentially sustainable.
[7:29] “We have repeatedly asked to negotiate with our unions” wrt the health plan. Nothing has happened. Cites fire overtime issue.
[7:30] Doesn’t see a viable, ongoing plan. This supplemental is insufficient to fund current receivables. “There is no concrete plan other than a hope” other than Governor Chafee’s municipal plan.
[7:32] Councilman Brien motions to amend the request for a budget commission, to a request for a receiver
[7:37] Councilman Jalette, I believe, is arguing that this amendment will prevent any supplemental tax, or any tax increase at all.
[7:39] Councilman Gendron asks if the emergency receiver provision of the fiscal stabilization really applies here.
[7:40] Amendment defeated on a voice vote.
[7:43] Council President Ward, back on the original subject. Without the supplemental tax, Woonsocket’s ability to meet its short term needs go away. Budget commission powers to accelerate state funding mimic those of having tax anticipation notes. After that, options are things like not making payroll. “I don’t think we should be breaking faith with our employees”.
[7:45] This resolution is here, so we can get a budget commission to move cash more quickly.
[7:46] Resolution asking for a receiver doesn’t obligate the state to do anything. State can declare an emergency at any time, if the state doesn’t think there’s not an emergency now, passing a resolution doesn’t change that.
[7:47] If Woonsocket’s GA delegation thinks there’s a fiscal emergency justifying a receiver, they think Woonsocket’s situation is more dire than the state’s Director of revenue does.
[7:48] He will not step down a Council President to avoid the budget commission.
[7:49] He holds the state responsible for much of Woonsocket’s fiscal situation.
[7:50] As City Council President, he will continue to look for ways to cut costs.
[7:51] On a budget commission, he would consult with the sitting City Council on all decisions.
[7:52] Part of the duty of a budget commission is to evaluate if a receiver is necessary. BC can do that by a simple majority vote, implication is that the BC is the proper route to receivership.
[7:53] Councilman Brien thinks that neither a budget commission request nor a receiver request is binding on the state.
[7:54] Councilman Brien suggests that the state should ignore the request for a BC, and advance Woonsocket the money to handle its cash flow problem. “We are more qualified” than the state is, to deal with its own problems.
[7:57] Councilman DuBois will support a budget commission.
[7:58] Councilman Jalette thinks that a receiver has an ability to negotiate with unions, that a budget commission or the regular government doesn’t.
[7:59] Councilman Gendron says recent tax increases have been fueled by cuts from the state. Now putting the state in charge, after that, doesn’t really make sense.
[8:00] Mayor Fontaine rebuts Councilman that receiver has no more power to negotiate than anyone else, save for the power to file for bankruptcy.
[8:02] Addressing Councilman Brien about school dept. funding: The agreed upon school budget had appropriate funding to meet its need, according to a doucmented performance audit.
[8:06] Advances the argument that the loss of state aid necessitates replacement, and “it’s a little ironic” that it’s the state that controls Woonsocket’s future.
[8:07] If the state delegation really wanted to help Woonsocket, they should have accelerated the funding formula.
[8:08] The new funding formula also touched on pension funding issues, that have worked to Woonsocket’s detriment.
[8:09] Once Woonsocket was an engine for the economy. When manufacturing was driven out of state and out of the country, Woonsocket’s affordable housing became a magnet for people with large human services needs. That’s an imbalance that needs to be corrected.
[8:10] Vote on the resolution calling for a the appointment of a budget commission.
[8:11] Resolution approved 5-2, Brien and Jalette against.
[8:13] Motion to adjourn. Accepted.