As Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (Democrat - District 49, Woonsocket) spoke against the supplemental tax bill, City Council President John Ward said he was shocked.
"If she was told a budget commission was coming either way, it's not what I was told," Ward said when asked about Baldelli-Hunt's claim that the city would face a budget commission regardless of the outcome of the supplemental tax question, and that he and city officials knew it.
Regarding her claim that there are problems in the municipal side of the budget, "I have no idea what that is about," Ward said.
Baldelli-Hunt said she learned those pieces of information during a meeting Tuesday between the Woonsocket delegation and members of Govenor Lincoln Chafee's staff.
Rep. Robert D. Phillips (Democrat- District 51, Woonsocket) said the meeting included himself, Baldelli-Hunt, Chafee's chief of staff George A. Zainyeh, and Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly.
The Woonsocket Call reports Gallogly told reporters after the House session that there's no guarantee the supplemental tax can prevent a budget commission. However, she didn't say it was inevitable.
No one from the Woonsocket delegation shared their concerns with him before the House session, Ward said. He said he believes the Woonsocket reps were told that Gallogly couldn't promise there wouldn't be a budget commission with the supplemental tax, because it's no guarantee that a budget commission won't be called if the city's situation worsens further. Somehow, he said, Baldelli-Hunt interpeted that to mean a budget commission was going to be imposed on the city no matter what.
If so, it's an interpretation Phillips shares. He said his understanding of the discussion was as Baldelli-Hunt described. Baldelli-Hunt and Rep. Jon Brien (Dist. 50, Woonsocket) could not be reached by phone for comment.
Phillips said Gallogly also told them that she has chosen the people who will serve on the budget committee and she can call them into service any time.
That's fortunate, because Ward says he can't see any option for the city besides a budget commission now. With the supplemental tax bill going back to the Finance Committee, there's no time left for it to pass soon enough. City Finance Director Thomas Bruce has reported the city will run out of money by the end of the month.
The Woonsocket Education Department is is largely operating due to the good will of its creditors. Durham Bus Services, for instance, is continuing to provide transport for the schools despite an outstanding $600,000 bill. "The city is out of time, the money has already dried up at the school department," Ward said.
Now, the only way for the city to keep going is with Gallogly's ability to deliver state aid early after imposing a budget commission. The commission's first order of business, Ward predicts, will be to re-assess the need for a supplemental tax bill. Speaker communications director Larry Berman said there is still a chance the bill will make it back to the floor.
The Woonsocket City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Sunday, May 27, in the second floor conference room of City Hall, 7 p.m., to consider a resolution requesting a budget commission.