December 16, 2017

Monthly News Briefs

Posted

City Budget Process Underway
The City Council has begun the process of the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget. The council has City Manager Tim Chapman's proposed budget which totals just over $180 million. The proposal has a planned 2.16% tax increase. The municipal soda of the budget is set at $75 million and the school side is projected to $82 million.

Each July, City management begins the budget process. Department Heads present their budget requests to the City Manager and Director of Finance each August. The City Manager, along with input from the Director of Finance, reviews the departmental budget and makes necessary budget reductions. The City Manager makes budget reductions so that the proposed budget aligns with the City's 3.5% budget increase cap. The City Manager then presents the proposed budget to City Council in the form of Public Hearings usually in October for final passage 7 days prior to the beginning of the new fiscal year, which is November 1st.

Chapman told the council that many increases were due to "past inadequate funding" such as police and fire pensions and contract negotiations of all city unions. This is something that state budget watchdog, Paul Luba has cautioned City officials about. Luba told the council that he supported the school side of the budget as necessary and after a lot of hard work.

Mayor Jim Briden on Budget
At-Large member and Mayor Jim Briden believes that important budget decisions lie ahead. "As we commence the Budget process, it is beneficial to take an inventory and devise a strategy as to how we can address our challenges prospectively.

At this point in time, the City of East Providence is good shape financially and we need to preserve this status by being fiscally conservative and careful in our decision making.

Over the past few years our bond rating has increased numerous times to the point that we are now at investment grade. Earlier this year, we also received an Audit Report which opined that we have implemented "Best Practices" in essentially all areas of financial management.

In addition, at our meeting involving the presentation on Tax Year Synchronization, we examined our borrowing capacity and status. Specifically, we have the ability to borrow 120M and our current debt level is approximately 36M.

In sum, our City is in good shape financially. Our challenges (school buildings, roads...) are not unique to EP. We need to address both in a measured and comprehensive manner. More specifically, as part of our budget process we will be approving a five (5) year budget plan. In alignment needs to be our longer term multi-year capital improvement plan which addresses and prioritizes all of our capital needs, including our buildings and roads.

At the core of this process is the premise that we need to make wise choices as to how we will use our limited resources and borrowing capacity. The decisions need to reflect our priorities and be ones that we can afford over the next decade and beyond." - Mayor Briden statement.

EP City Councilman Botelho Leaves Dems for Moderate Party 
Although the City of East Providence is officially a non-partisan form of government, many locally elected officials are "affiliated" with a political party. The Republican party has not been very active, nor successful, locally, while the Democrats have been very active. However the Democrats have been somewhat fractured in recent years. The four wards in the City Democratic Party don't always see eye to eye. In particular, there is a public split between long time Democratic City Chairman, John Faria and his son, Ward 4 Councilman Brian Faria. The two have been at odds and support different agendas within the party.

Although the City Council is officially non-partisan, most members are aligned with the Democratic Party. Councilman Joe Botelho released a statement explaining his recent decision to leave the Democratic Party and join the Moderate party. His statement:

"East Providence Ward 3 Councilman Joe Botelho announced his affiliation with The Moderate Party of Rhode Island. Although a Democrat for many years, Botelho indicated he made the switch after a long period of consideration, and to escape the escalation of party squabbling.

“The tensions revolving around this decades long power struggle have been making their way into council meetings, drawing attention away from important city issues.” Botelho said that there are at least three factions of the democratic party vying for control of the city, maybe more “I have a great many friends in the democratic party but I found myself continually getting caught in the crosshairs of all the infighting.”

“This change allows me to be more focused on governing and policy that aligns with what I feel most people are looking for.” Botelho went on to say that his emphasis moving forward is to ”produce tangible results for taxpayers such as improving roads, schools and other related infrastructure.”

“These are important items the taxpayers are looking for and year after year the can continually gets kicked down the road.” Botelho pointed to, for example, the recent lack of support by other members of council to place a road improvement bond before the people in lieu of handing out pay raises.

“ I look forward to moving the city forward now, and in the future with likeminded individuals here in the City, “ Botelho went on to say. “Together I know we can accomplish a lot!” - Joe Botelho.

Raucous City Council Meeting
Following the City Council meeting on September 5th, which had many in East Providence buzzing over the argumentative nature throughout most of the session, Ward Three Councilman Joe Botelho issued a press release pointing a finger at Ward Four Councilman Brian Faria.

The Botelho Statement in its entirety:
“During our last city council meeting, while Councilman Faria was deflecting charges that he secretly records other members of the city council, he made reference to a “so called” secret or illegal meeting between himself, myself, Mr. Britto, and Brian’s father John Faria, (who called the meeting) the chairman of the East Providence Democratic City Committee, of which we were all members.

In his continued attempt to deflect charges of secretly recording other council people, Brian Faria is painting this gathering as some sort of “dark backroom conspiracy” where all city appointments were discussed to and agreed to ahead of time.

Let me assure all of you that nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is, that party caucuses and meetings are specifically exempt from the open meetings law so there was nothing nefarious about it. (Reference RIGL 42-46-2(3))
Second, Councilman Faria wanted to make appointments that myself and Mr. Britto found totally unpalatable, and when myself and Mr. Britto related that to him, he disappeared and we didn’t hear from him for weeks. Meanwhile, while Brian Faria was shopping his vote for Mayor in exchange for appointments, I was attempting to solicit an opinion form the State Attorney General’s office relative to allowing all five members of the “city council elect” to gather in executive session to coherently set up the government for the upcoming term. The AG’s office ultimately refused to opine on the matter leaving us all in limbo.
Now the facts that follow are hard for Brian Faria to explain relative to such “conspiracy theories” he tries to sell the unknowing public.

For example, one of the most political appointments outlined by state law relate to the cities Canvassing authority, as the law calls for members of all recognized political parties in the State of Rhode Island to be represented on that board.

Mr. Peter Barilla, a Democrat, whose term had expired, was up for reappointment, and although there was already a Republican on this board, Mr. Faria, along with Mayor Jim Briden and Councilwoman Anna Sousa voted for Republican Tom Riley, over the objection of myself and Mr. Britto.

Furthermore, just a few weeks later, Mr. Britto and myself placed former City Manager Richard Kirby’s name the docket for reappointment to that position as we felt he was unjustly fired by the previous council. Expecting an affirmative vote based on Mr. Faria’s campaign rhetoric, myself and Mr. Britto were astonished when Mr. Faria along with Mayor Briden and Anna Sousa voted against Kirby’s appointment.

So, for two of the most political appointments in the city, canvassing board and city manager, Mr. Britto and myself were left in the dust. Based on those results, myself and Mr. Britto must be the two worst co-conspirators on the face of the earth or the account of these events Mr. Faria is selling everyone is just “Fake News.”

Governing a municipality in today’s world is a very difficult task as resources are scarce and every constituency begs to be served. Most of us try to do our best with what’s available, while as each day passes, decisions become more difficult to make. Having a member on the council who is constantly undermining us based on his behavior and hysterical charges, makes it almost impossible to move forward. Hopefully things will change, but I’ve never yet seen a leopard change its spots.” - Joe Botelho

Rep. Gregg Amore Praises Gun Bill/Pushes Insurance Coverage for Non-Opioid Pain Treatments
Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) is praising the passage of legislation (2017-H 5510Baa / 2017-S 0405Aaa) that will protect victims of domestic violence by disarming their abusers after the bill cleared the General Assembly last month. Representative Amore is a cosponsor of the legislation, which he has been championing since he was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012.

“It has been a long road of many years to finally see this legislation passed and I applaud Representative Tanzi, Senator Metts, the House leadership, and the Senate leadership for protecting the victims and survivors of domestic abuse in the state. I am especially grateful that several protections that have been in the similar bills I have introduced since 2013 were also included in this new law. Combined with my bill from a previous session that took guns away from domestic abuse felons, this legislation will continue our fight against the needless deaths resulting from the deadly mix of domestic violence and firearms,” said Representative Amore.

Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi praised Representative Amore on the House floor during the vote on the bill stating, “I want to thank my friend and colleague, Representative Amore, who led this fight before me, and with me, and it was his leadership on this issue that set us on this path to today.”

The Protect Rhode Island Families Act, sponsored by Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), will prohibit gun possession by domestic abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to court-issued final protective orders, and ensure that all those subject to the prohibition actually turn in their guns when they become prohibited from possessing them. The bill takes effect immediately upon passage.

Under current Rhode Island law, abusers convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to final restraining orders are not always prohibited from possessing guns nor are they always required to actually surrender the firearms they already possess once they become prohibited. Federal law already prohibits most of those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning guns, but Rhode Island does not have a mechanism for ensuring that they actually turn them in.

This bill would close these loopholes by requiring that abusers are prohibited under state law and are required to turn in their guns swiftly once they become prohibited from possessing them.

Under the bill, those convicted or pleading to a crime of domestic violence would have 24 hours to turn in any guns they possess. The act would apply to domestic violence crimes including assault, cyberstalking and cyberharrassment, violation of a protective order and disorderly conduct if the criminal act involves the use or attempted use of force or the threatened use of a dangerous weapon.

Similar laws prohibiting gun possession by those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abusers exist in 27 states plus Washington, D.C., including Alabama, Texas, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. The legislation will now be sent to the governor’s desk. Legislation introduced by Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) that requires insurance reimbursement for chiropractic and osteopathic non-opioid treatments for pain has been signed into law by the governor.

“With the opioid crisis worsening every day, it is imperative that insurance companies cover alternate and effective treatments for chronic pain, especially in the case of patients with substance use problems,” said Senator Lombardo.

“It is no secret that opioids have been over prescribed in our state and that has led to a health epidemic. For many patients, particularly those with substance abuse problems, opioids are the wrong choice to manage pain. This bill will ensure that other proven treatments for pain are covered by insurance, hopefully lessening the impact of opioid abuse in our state,” said Representative Amore.

The legislation (2017-S 0789Aaa / 2017-H 6124Aaa) states that patients with substance use disorders shall have access to evidence-based non-opioid treatment for pain. In turn, insurance coverage will be required for medically necessary chiropractic care and osteopathic manipulative treatment performed by licensed individuals.

10% Affordable Housing at Kettle Point in Jeopardy
A.R. Builders is constructing the apartments and other properties at Kettle Point on Veteran's Parkway. The initial agreement with the City called for a commitment of "10% affordable housing" to be included in the mostly luxury parcel overlooking the Providence River. The developer is now seeking a waiver, of sorts, for the 10% requirement. They offer to "pay other one-time fees to the City in exchange for eliminating the 10% affordable housing number.

City Community Development Director David Bachrach was joined by Planning Director Diane Feather told the council that they objected to this change. Bachrach did not want to see exclusive gated communities take over the City waterfront.

The matter is pending before the City Waterfront Commission as of this writing. Council members Bob Britto, Anna Sousa and Brian Faria voted in a non-binding advisory capacity to oppose the measure. Councilman Joe Botelho and Jim Briden abstained from voting last month.

Road Work Updates 
According to the City of East Providence, PHMA will be paving, Brookhaven Rd, Grassmere Ave, Merrick St and Brayton Ave. They’ll be starting on Brookhaven Rd and Grassmere Ave, then moving to Merrick St and Brayton Ave.

Water Tower Getting its Facelift
The City of East Providence Department of Public Works, Water Utilities Division, announces the commencement of the painting of the One Million Gallon Water Tank located at the Kent Heights Water Storage Facility.

The contractor, Atlas Painting, has mobilized on the site and has commenced installation of scaffolding for the containment system. The project includes relocation of antennae and equipment, repairs to the tank, sand blasting and painting of both the interior and exterior. Work will continue through the fall and is anticipated to be complete by the end of the year, weather permitting.

We would like to thank the neighboring residents of the Kent Heights Water Storage Facility for their patience and understanding during the recent construction of the new concrete water tank and as we work to complete the painting and rehabilitation of the elevated tank.

For further information, if needed, please contact the Water Utilities Division office at 435-7741.

Newman Avenue Bridge Work
Bridge work over the Reservoir at Newman Avenue continues with a one-way alternating traffic pattern on Route 152 (Newman Avenue) from the Massachusetts state line to Barney Street in East Providence. A temporary traffic light has been installed to control the one-way alternating flow of vehicles. Crews will work Saturday and weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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