It is time for a paradigm shift in municipal governance in Rhode Island. We can no
longer afford 39 municipal fiefdoms. The solution is to have a reasonable regionalization into county government. Here’s how it could be done.
Step one would be to reorganize our counties to make sense, combine Bristol and
Newport Counties together into an East Bay County, make East Providence part of
that. Divide Providence County and have a separate Blackstone Valley County,
including Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield
and North Smithfield. For the sake of this regionalization, the City of Providence would continue to stand alone as it serves a population about equal to each county.
Step two would be to determine what is regionalized, I believe we should regionalize back-end services and some of the more cumbersome public services, leaving most community services up to the towns and cities, my list includes:
- Financial Services (39 Directors making $75,000-120,000 down to 6)
- Personnel Services (20 Directors making $50,000-110,000 down to 6)
- Technology Services
- Facilities Maintenance / Custodial Services
- Refuse Services
- Building Inspection (other than zoning)
- Water and Wastewater Utilities (too much for small towns to handle)
Step three would be to determine how we would govern a limited County Government. I think you could have a County Commission comprised of the City/Town Council Presidents and an appointed County Administrator.
Step four would be to determine how to fund a limited County Government, and I think that the state should appropriate the meals tax toward funding County Government. Water and wastewater operations would be funded county-wide by a user fee.
Just consolidating the Finance and Personnel Directors alone would save over $2
million state-wide, after factoring in the county level costs, based on the
most recent survey of municipal salaries. That doesn’t include the cost of
synergies for the rest of those departments and the others. This change, or
something like it needs to happen in order to maintain our level of service
without making the property tax burden unsustainable. We need a real change in
our municipal structure state-wide, time for the fiefdoms to end.