As Halloween and Election Day draw nigh, this week’s letter discusses the infrastructure bond and the fire fighters’ contract.
When we vote on Election Day, our ballot will include Question 8, which seeks voter approval for an infrastructure bond in Providence. I encourage you vote “Reject” or not to vote at all. I make this recommendation because the City Council majority/leadership have effectively “killed” the proposal because the Mayor would not agree to their demand for ward accounts controlled by individual members. The majority engineered this anomaly by approving an ordinance in August with unusual language requiring a second approval vote prior to the election in order for the bond to be effective. They tried to use this leverage to persuade the Mayor to approve ward accounts, which he accurately described as “slush funds.” The Mayor decided, correctly in my opinion, to refuse this extortion demand. He is now exploring alternative funding methods for infrastructure projects, such as with bonds issued by the Providence Building Authority.
In the meantime, Question 8 remains on the ballot, and borrowing imagery from Halloween, it is an electoral zombie. Even if voters approve it unanimously, we will not have an infrastructure bond thanks to the wisdom of the City Council leadership. Continuing on the ghoulish theme, the zombie bond is the product of a Frankenstein monster of a bond ordinance created by the same majority, who created the dual-vote procedure after the Mayor refused to agree to the “slush fund” proposal made by the Finance Committee in July. The City Council majority’s arbitrary and capricious political games have insulted the City’s voters by placing on the ballot a bond proposal that they have made impossible to fund. As part of a post hoc effort to justify their political gamesmanship, the City Council majority organized a press conference on Tuesday evening at which they excluded the five City Council members who sought an infrastructure bond that was free of “slush funds.” At that press conference, they offered a fictional pretext for their decision, saying the City could not afford to issue a bond to repair its streets and infrastructure. This contradicted the advice of the City’s professional advisors, who said that the City would maintain its current credit rating if it issued the bond, and that a failure to maintain infrastructure could damage the City’s credit rating. Thanks to this extremely poor “leadership” by the majority, Providence residents will endure the embarrassment of being asked to vote for a “zombie” bond. While a minority of us tried unsuccessfully to avoid this debacle every step of the way, the “zombie bond” will make Providence city government appear dysfunctional, not only to Providence residents, but also across the State.
Last week, the administration provided a “fiscal note” to permit the Finance Committee to review the fire fighters’ tentative agreement, probably later this week. As noted in my Web page of information about the contract, the tentative agreement proposes reducing minimum staffing from 94 to 88, which the administration estimates will save the City roughly $15 million over the contract’s 5-year term. According to an Article in yesterday’s Providence Journal, the savings come in part from the closure of fire stations at Rochambeau and Humboldt Avenues. I have not received notice of this from the administration, and will research it further next week. If this proves to be the case, I will probably schedule a community meeting to discuss the changes and how they affect fire responses in our neighborhood. In the meantime, the City Council commissioned a consultant (MMA Consulting) to study staffing issues, and the consultant’s draft report indicated that minimum manning could be reduced from 94 to 82 while maintaining appropriate safety standards. The City Council President indicated a final report will be issued next week. If minimum manning can be reduced to 82, this could conceivably double the cost savings proposed in the tentative agreement. Through the upcoming hearings, I will ask how the administration settled on a “minimum manning” level of 88, and whether further reductions consistent with the consultant’s draft report are possible. Each “minimum manning” number represents $500,000 per year in savings, and the Fire Department currently is drastically understaffed; therefore, there appears to be an opportunity that could provide savings while protecting the job security of every current fire fighter and those who will be recruited for the incoming fire academy.