City Council Brought Up to Speed
Within 24 hours of taking their oaths of office, the new East Providence City Council met for the first time and was briefed on a variety of issues and its role in relation to the Budget Commission.
Welcome to governance in East Providence.
The new City Council was brought up to speed on a host of issues being dealt with by the Budget Commission, including the $60 million Google windfall for the police department, at its first meeting on Tuesday night, Dec. 4.
City Manager Peter Graczykowski provided the update as a Budget Commission member. He plans to provide similar updates from now on.
“I will be giving you the same information in parallel with the Budget Commission,” he said, “so you can be fully engaged, and you get the benefit of the same information for when the Budget Commission leaves.”
The new City Council includes Mayor James Briden, Assistant Mayor Thomas Rose, Helder Cunha, Tracy Capobianco and Chrissy Rossi. Within 24 hours of taking their “oaths of engagement” on Monday, they were filled in on the status of the Google cash; TANS (tax anticipation notes); the Homestead Exemption audit; the water system interconnection with Pawtucket, and rules on making purchases, among a host of other issues.
The $60 million Google settlement cash has not been touched, Graczykowski and Police Chief Joseph Tavares told the City Councilors. It depends on the city’s appeal of the decision on the use of the money from a federal justice department division.
“We have not requested any of the funds because of the appeal,” Tavares said.
“The spending plan for the cash depends on the city’s joint appeal with North Providence to the Department of Justice,” the city manager said. “There is no indication when we might get an answer.”
Depositing most of the Google cash into the police pension fund is the top priority of the Budget Commission, said Graczykowski.
“It’s been woefully underfunded for years,” he said. “Just funding the pension plan at 100 percent from now on won’t get us there.”
He was referring to the 60 percent plateau at which a local pension fund gets off the critical list from the state. Getting the pension back to good health also will require benefit changes for new employees, Graczykowski said.
The Budget Commission prefers a combination of applying the Google cash, funding the pension plan at 100 percent each year from now on and making benefit changes.
TANS of up to $22 million are being negotiated with Webster Bank; the city will use a combination of one-time loans and a line of credit to be drawn against in December to provide the cash flow needed at this time of year each year.
The Homestead Exemption audit will continue with a second letter sent out to taxpayers who did not receive the first one or who have not responded – approximately 15 percent. The Budget Commission took action in opposition to the previous council’s action to call a moratorium on the audit. The second letter will not list a federal income tax return as a proof of residency. It will list other options.
An amendment for preliminary design services for a water system interconnection with Pawtucket has been approved. The interconnection will provide a second source of water for East Providence and the Bristol County Water Authority, which serves Barrington, Warren and Bristol.
The Budget Commission will allow the City Manager, the City Council and the School Committee to make any payments under $25,000 or routine payments over $25,000. The commission must pre-approve any purchase over $25,000, said the city manager.
All City Council actions need Budget Commission approvals, Graczykowski said.
"It takes two meetings to get a sign-off," he said, or about a month since the Budget Commission meets bi-weekly on Thursday afternoons.
Briden is now a member of the Budget Commission by virtue of his election as mayor by the City Council.