Monthly News Briefs
Monthly Water Bills Replacing Quarterly:
As reported here last month, the City is owed close to $2Million in delinquent water payments by residents. The City Council was told in February that some 2,000 customers of city water owe close to $2Million in unpaid bills. Acting City Manager Tim Chapman said that a "shut off policy may be implemented by July 1st," if the delinquent bills are not paid. "Why haven't these people paid," asked Councilman Brian Faria. "Are there financial or medical hardships," Faria asked.
City Water Superintendent, James Marvel said at that time that he knows of "only about 10 hardships if that. We've handled hardship emergencies in the past. These are about 2,000 seriously delinquent cases."
One of the proposed remedies is to institute a monthly billing process to replace the quarterly payment cycle. Some in the City feel that associated costs with the new billing policy will not really provide resident relief. Ward 4 Councilman Brian Faria tried to convince the council to hold off on the change.
At its March 21st meeting, the City Council didn't go along with Faria's request and the monthly billing remains the plan. Faria suggested that more discussion be held on the matter and wondered about any new administrative costs that may arise. "This is about saving people money," suggested Faria.
However, a difference of opinion between City Finance Director Malcolm Moore and Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury became evident during this meeting. Moore had previously told the Council that he envisioned an additional cost of just over $200,000 for new staff and mailing.
But Waterbury said personnel hires were retirement openings and the council was also told that Moore's estimate was too high. Waterbury said actual postage increases would be a little over $50,000. Ward 3 Councilman Joe Botelho, usually at odds with Faria, cited reasons for going to a monthly billing cycle. Botelho said that most cities and towns were billing monthly and the City "has already invested money in the switch." Botelho and Ward 1 Councilman Jim Briden cited the near $2Million owed the City in delinquent payments. No vote was taken and the monthly billing plan is set to replace the quarterly.
New EP High School Discussion Moves Forward:
It has been discussed for a dozen years and even before that, should the City build a brand new high school to replace the 65 year old school on Pawtucket Avenue. A committee has been studying the issue and an architectural firm will present recommendations at a special meeting (scheduled for press time). The City is considering the costs of continuing with building refurbishing or building a new school from scratch.
The report is most likely going to strongly recommend that the current home of the Townies is obsolete and a new school should be built. Strong opinions are developing on both sides of the issue. Two sites are being considered unofficially, both with lots of room for criticism. One proposal has a new school being built behind the current school, replacing all of the athletic fields. Presumably, once built, the old school would then be razed and fields could be relocated toward Pawtucket Avenue. A second proposal has a new school being built at the current site of the Pierce Field complex. It is unclear at this point if the football stadium and other ball fields would be able to relocate at the parcel.
Projected costs for a new school go anywhere from $100Million to $150Million or more. Financial adviser Paul Luba has previously indicated that a substantial bond issue would be required, certainly adding to the tax burden of the City. As this meeting is being held at press time, updates will be posted at ReporterToday.com.
City Busy on Several Issues/Budget Early in the Year - Mayor Jim Briden:
In a statement issued by Mayor Jim Briden, the at-large councilman discussed a framework of activities the council is engaged with. The city is preparing for its move to an elected Mayor form of government, the possibility of asking residents for a bond issue to build a new high school, establishing a budget, among other tasks.
The Briden Statement: "The East Providence City Council is working diligently on essential issues and doing so early in the year. We are also honing in on certain topics well in advance of our Budget season in the Fall and concentrating on matters that will be of great importance to East Providence in the future.
At the outset, we established a Charter Review Commission. This is necessary and will have a transformative impact on our municipality. Obviously we need to conform our Charter to the newly amended Article III which changed our government from a City Manager to a strong Mayor which will take effect in December 2018.
Equally as important, however, is that the Commission, by examining certain Charter provisions and topics such as tax year synchronization and our surplus account, will assist the City Council in making very important decisions (that may also result in ballot questions) which will determine our direction as a City over the next decade. Next month, our Fiscal Advisor and Finance Director will work with us on the details of these issues which will include our bonding capacity and strategy.
At the same time, we are having Joint Meetings with the School Committee and focusing on numerous issues including our high school. On April 25th, our session will also concern the upcoming budget.
Prior to October, our objective is to have worked diligently on the underpinnings of the Budget.
This Spring, we need to examine the question of whether there is too great of an opportunity cost associated with pursuing tax year synchronization given the cost of the bond necessary to effectuate same. Is there a more impactful use of this money for our City? This issue warrants serious debate and analysis.
The City Council values public input on these issues. This is an important year for East Providence and our objective is to make wise decisions in the context of a long term plan and vision for our City."
Pawtucket Avenue Bridge Replacement. Project to be Done in 4 months, not 2 Years:
As part of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation's (RIDOT) ongoing commitment to repair Rhode Island's structurally deficient bridges, it has begun the replacement of the Pawtucket Avenue Bridge over I-195 in East Providence. To complete the work as quickly as possible and minimize impact to motorists, pedestrians and area businesses, the Department will be using accelerated bridge construction methods to replace it in just four months. Using traditional construction methods, it would have taken two years to complete the work.
"Although much different than the rapid bridge replacement project we finished last fall in East Providence, this bridge shares the same fate - it had deteriorated to the point where we had to install timber blocks to help support it and keep it open," RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. "Our RhodeWorks program provides the funding for us to rapidly erase bad bridges like this from our landscape, and, more importantly, brings Rhode Island's bridges into a state of good repair so they never reach such advanced states of deterioration."
Originally built in 1959, the Pawtucket Avenue Bridge is located between Warren Avenue and Grosvenor Avenue and carries 23,000 vehicles per day. It is one of the most heavily traveled bridges in East Providence.
To complete the work in the 120-day compressed timeframe, RIDOT will institute a number of traffic pattern changes. Lane restrictions for both the bridge and I-195 will be in place throughout the duration of the project. The most disruptive restrictions will take place during a series of eight weekend closures, the first began on Friday, March 31. RIDOT strongly recommends motorists plan ahead, provide extra travel time and consider alternate routes. Weekend lane closures and detours will be in place through early July. All weekend closures will follow the same schedule (7 p.m. Friday - 6 a.m. Monday).
There is a $20,000 per day incentive/disincentive provision to encourage the contractor to reduce the overall closure time or to assess a penalty beyond the 120-day period. Maps of recommended detour routes, including turn-by-turn directions, will be posted on RIDOT's website at www.ridot.net/detourmaps.
Representative Katherine Kazarian Motel Bill:
State Representative Katherine Kazarian, District 63, introduced a bill to address problems in motels with offenders. "This fall, I held a community meeting with the Chief of Police, several fellow elected officials and over 100 neighbors and friends to address their concerns with high level sexual offenders who had established a long term residence in a local motel. This session, I used what I learned from that meeting to create a piece of legislation aimed to help prevent that problem from happening again. This legislation is a starting point for us to address this problem. To all of my neighbors and friends- please consider supporting this legislation," said Kazarian to constituents.
This act would authorize an innkeeper to remove any guest who is a level III high risk 2 sexual offender who attempts to remain a hotel resident for more than thirty (30) consecutive 3 days in any calendar year. Signing on with Representatives Kazarian were Representatives Amore, Cunha, McNamara, and Fogarty.
Residents and First Responders Recognized:
At last month's City Council meeting, Ward 2 Councilwoman Anna Sousa recognized the heroic actions of residents Amanda Morton, Sendy Gonzalez, Yanina Hernandez, and Dawn Oliveira, who administered aid to a woman in need of medical attention after a sudden car accident that occurred outside of their office building in EP. "If not for the collaborative effort of these brave women, this story may not have had a happy ending. We appreciate the swift action by these courageous women as well as the help of Seekonk Firefighters Evan Akers, Chief Michael Healy and Adam Clement, EP Police Officers Steven McKenna and Ryan Vose, as well as EP Fire Battalion Chief Rave, Captains Batik, Captain Carr, Lts. Dent Weber, Firefighters Donato, Andrade, Sperry, Carvalho, Lynch, Sinku, Lace, Clement, and Akers. Your recognition for your selfless acts are well deserved," said Councilwoman Anna Sousa.
Representative Helder Cunha Bill on Water:
Representative Helder Cunha, District 64, introduced a bill bill that creates a $500 sewer rate tax credit. The legislation (2017-H 5786) would create an income tax credit up to $500 for property owners whose primary residence is located in a municipality with a water or sewer rate that is above the statewide average for such utilities.
“This bill is another part of our continuing efforts to get much-needed relief to East Providence residents who are being financially blindsided and crippled by the rising sewer rates in our city,” said Representative Cunha.
The credit would be allowed for 25 percent of the difference between the actual water and sewer charges and the calculation of the same services using the statewide average for those utilities. The credit would only be available for a property owners in a municipality whose water or sewer rates are above the statewide average, and the tax credits would be limited solely to the property owner's primary residence and be no greater than the sum of $500.
“Due to past mistakes of previous city administrations, our residents are paying astronomical amounts for basic necessities such as a running faucet and a flushing toilet in their homes, and frankly, it is unacceptable. This bill will not be my final effort in curbing these ridiculous costs, but it is a good step toward the relief East Providence property owners deserve,” added Representative Cunha.
Business in East Providence:
The City of East Providence Social Media web page announced that "Doing business in East Providence just got easier. The Economic Development Division of East Providence is proud to introduce their new website dedicated to growing the business climate in the city. The website introduces streamlined efforts to locating commercial property, easy to access funding applications, and success stories of local businesses. East Providence is open for business #ComeGrowWithUs."
Water Main Break Drops Pressure Throughout City:
On Friday, March 25th, a large water main break in the area of Almeida Avenue caused a disruption in water service for some and a loss of water pressure throughout the City. The break caused the City Recreation Department to close down temporarily. Other than traffic detours and loss of water pressure, disruptions seemed to be minimal. An announcement of the break was posted on the City website at 3:40 p.m.
The City doesn't have a system for providing a "robocall" to all residents in an emergency. Currently the City posts notices on the City web site and social media site or through the press. The school department has a system and can send a message to thousands in a few seconds but only to those homes in the public schools.
School Lunches to Rise Ten Cents Next Year:
Next September East Providence students will have to pay an additional 10 cents for lunch. Department finance officer Michael Hubert said the raise is required to meet federal mandates of the Department of Agriculture. If the rates were not increased, the school budget would show a deficit in the school lunch account.
Emergency Shellfishing Closure Lifted For Rhode Island Waters
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced that effective at sunrise on Friday, March 24, it has lifted the emergency shellfishing closure for areas of Rhode Island Sound, lower Narragansett Bay south of the Newport Pell and Jamestown Verrazzano Bridges, and lower Sakonnet River. The closure was due to a harmful algae bloom that has now subsided.
Out of an abundance of caution, DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) analyzed shellfish and water samples from both closed and open waters for the presence of domoic acid – a toxin responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans – throughout the closure period. Recent test results for shellfish show little to no evidence of this toxin. All shellfish on the market is safe from domoic acid. DEM will continue to monitor local waters as part of its regular survey program.