City Council Tables Request For Budget Commission
Members decide to wait for General Assembly's decision on supplemental tax.
Councilman Dan Gendron announced a change of heart Monday night, moving that the Woonsocket City Council table the proposal that they ask for a budget commission.
Most of the rest of the council voted to put the request on a back burner. The only holdout was Councilman Albert Brien. He was in favor of a vote on the issue, he said, but only so he could vote 'No'. "I am against a budget commission at any time," Brien said.
Gendron and the other members of the council were not as fervent in their reluctance to ask for state intervention, but most were wary of asking for the state to step in if it wasn't as a last resort.
"We do not have the option of asking them to leave," Gendron said, and a budget commission could end up running the city's finances for up to five years. He said the General Assembly seemed to have warmed to the idea of the supplemental tax, so asking for a budget commission when they might not need it would be rash.
Council President John Ward said having a budget commission request in place could provide a little extra security for members of the General Assembly who are wary of supporting the legislation authorizing the city to issue supplemental tax bills, raising $6.6 million to aid the financially strapped city. He said the city could ask the state for a budget commission with some confidence that it wouldn't be imposed on them needlessly, since they were already working closely with the Department of Revenue.
Ward said he was prepared to vote for the commission Monday, but he understood his fellow councilmen's interest in waiting until the Finance Committee Vote and General Assembly vote on the supplemental tax bill.
Councilman Christopher Beauchamp said there was still a chance that the General Assembly could approve the legislation. "I think we've got to give them that opportunity," he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Ward noted the reason the Council would be asking for a budget commission, and not asking to go straight to a recievership, is that the law governing state intervention only allows a budget commission to ask for a reciever. "So while I appreciate the suggestion that we simply jump to reciever, the proper reading of the law will show that that's simply not something we have in our options," Ward said.
Ward also asked Finance Director Thomas Bruce about the School Department's draft budget. Bruce said the schools budget currently stands at just over $70 million.
Ward noted there were two proposed ammendments to the supplemental tax bill. The first is to create a legislative commission to study the cause of the School Department's deficit. "I think the cause is simple," Ward said. He said the school business manager didn't have the proper information because she didn't have the staff supporting her and lacked the knowledge to prepare a budget properly, combined with a superintendent who was willing to let them prepare a budget that was not meaningful. "I don't know who you would want to punish," Ward said, since most of the people responsible aren't working with the city anymore.
A second proposed ammendment to the supplemental tax bill would reverse the tax hike within three years. That would compromise part of the goal of the tax, Ward said, which was to allow them to meet their Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) and pension liability.
Ward said both ammendments would only delay the city's ability to raise the extra funds it needs to keep running."I can't even begin to fathom the first piece of logic about it and I hope it never sees the light of day," Ward said.