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Woonsocket 2013: Taxes Hiked, Blocks Partied, Hospital Saved, New Mayor

From left, Madeline Riendeau and George Gaulin dance together just before the Arc de Triomphe's waterfall is turned on. Credit: Rob Borkowski
From left, Madeline Riendeau and George Gaulin dance together just before the Arc de Triomphe's waterfall is turned on. Credit: Rob Borkowski
Woonsocket celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2013 with a block party extravaganza, a financial rescue for its hospital, new Mayor, new councilors and new taxes.

While those stories mark big milestones for The City on the Move, two articles really grabbed people's attention. The most popular story of 2013 was a report on a Dec. 12 flash mob gathered at Tammy Lamberto Roy's Home to support her cancer fight. Bringing up the number two spot was a local mom's search for her missing son

New taxes - On July 8, the state-appointed Woonsocket Budget Commission, acting on an assessment that existing union agreements and the "enactment" (an exertion of administrative authority under the Fiscal Stability Act) of police union healthcare changes had saved the city $4,738,000, sent out bills to raise an additional $2.5 million under the Supplemental Tax Bill. 

The assertion allowed the Commission to assess a $2.5 million Supplemental Tax Bill, which had passed in the General Assembly the previous week with the savings as a condition. "I'm confident that we've met the test for the Supplemental Tax," said Budget Commission member Peder Schaefer. Sen. Marc Cote (D- Dist. 24) did not agree, nor did a group of taxpayers, including Cote, who sued the City to contest the savings and the tax assessment.

At the time, the city's finance department had reported collection on the tax bills at about $1.7 million - better than the 60 percent expected, and on track for a collection rate at about 90 percent.

New Mayor, Councilors - While the collection rate was surprisingly positive, the political effect during the November primary and elections for Mayor and City Council was telling for the two state-appointed members of the Budget Commission, Mayor Leo Fontaine and Council President John Ward, both of whom were unseated by voters Nov. 5.

Woonsocket's new mayor, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, elected in the midst of a two-year term as representative for Dist. 49, was inaugurated Dec. 5, protesting the tax hikes and vowing to remove the Budget Commission's oversight of Woonsocket finances. Baldelli-Hunt and newly elected City Council President Al Brien are according to the Fiscal Stability Act, automatically appointed to the Commission, where they will serve with the other three state-appointed members, all with one vote apiece.

Birthday Block Party In July, the 125th Block Party Committee began a series of celebrations that served as fundraisers for the $70,000 donation-funded event. The fundraisers, combined with banner sales to local businesses and direct donations, paid for the party, which Fontaine and Co-Chair Al Beauparlant touted as a symbol of the city's unity in the face of the near bankruptcy that spurred Governor Lincoln Chafee's decision to appoint the Woonsocket Budget Commission in 2012.

The party stretched over a half-mile from Monument Square to Market Square, packed with 10 acts on each of 12 stages, and 11 bands playing non-stop from 7 to 10 p.m., complemented by light shows, performance artists, and vendors. Beauparlant, who organized the city's 100th birthday block party in 1988, boasted it was the largest block party on the East Coast. The celebration drew about 30,000 people

Landmark rescue The city also celebrated the economically significant rescue of Landmark Medical Center Oct. 28, when Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin approved the sale of Landmark to Prime Healthcare Services for about $60 million. Kilmartin's OK was the final regulatory step in the sale, ending a 5-year Special Mastership of the financially ailing hospital. During that process, Landmark was the focus of several suitors, including Steward Healthcare , which backed out before Prime made its most recent bid.

The sale saved the hospital, the city’s second-largest employer with 1,100 workers, and preserved the health care center's services to the northern Rhode Island region. As the hospital will now be considered a for-profit business, it will also pay real estate taxes to the city on property assessed at $27.3 million.  

In February, the year began with snowplow-crippling blizzard. Local contractors helped clear the roads after many city plows were incapacitated. The first snow of 2014 is expected to bring 5-6 inches on Jan. 2.
Nelson Aldrich December 31, 2013 at 02:59 PM
The Arc de Brainwashe, i've never seen anything so pathetic in all my years.

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