Elorza: Providence is ‘beginning a resurgence’

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza State of the City address_257917

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Under Buddy Cianci, it was known as the renaissance city. Now Mayor Jorge Elorza wants Providence to be the resurgence city.

In his first State of the City address Tuesday night, the 39-year-old Democrat said “Providence is turning an important corner” after its prolonged suffering following the Great Recession, pointing to what could be the busiest construction season Rhode Island’s capital city has seen in a generation.

“We were hit hard by the Great Recession and we have been too slow to recover,” Elorza during his speech to the City Council. “But everywhere you look, there are encouraging signs. Businesses are hiring, people are buying homes, and developers are beginning to invest and build in Providence again.”

Unlike Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address, which includes the unveiling of her proposed budget, mayors do not release their tax-and-spending plans as part of the State of the City; that usually doesn’t occur until April.

Elorza said the city has more than 30 major construction projects worth nearly $500 million that will break ground this year. Among the larger projects on the horizon are the University of Rhode Island/Rhode Island College nursing education center, a life-sciences complex on the former I-195 land and several hotel projects throughout downtown.

“We’re not just building buildings,” Elorza said. “We’re building the economy of the future.”

“The people of Providence are ready to see cranes in the sky and workers on the job,” the mayor exclaimed later in his speech. “We are ready for our resurgence and that resurgence begins now.”

Elorza also rattled off a slew of accomplishments in his first year in office, from an improved constituent response team to a program that aims to rid the city of more than 450 abandoned properties to a plan to streamline the city’s school department in order to improve its interactions with students and parents.

At the same time, Elorza acknowledged that Providence still faces its share of financial challenges. Providence ended the 2014-15 fiscal year with a $5-million deficit, even though Elorza administration officials initially predicted the shortfall would be minimal. The city is now facing a $13.4-million cumulative deficit, which can only be eliminated by finishing with annual budget surpluses over the next five years.

Elorza argued that he “inherited a structural deficit that would have reached $85 million by 2021,” but said he’s worked to address the challenges by purchasing the city’s streetlights from National Grid, renegotiating a contract with Roger Williams Park Zoo, expanding revenue and negotiating two union contracts with the city’s teachers and municipal employees.

“I refuse to rely on one-time fixes and I refuse to kick the can down the road,” Elorza said. “This is critical to ensure Providence’s long-term stability and set the city up to succeed.”

Elorza’s speech made little mention of his ongoing legal dispute with Providence’s firefighters. In August, he overhauled the fire department to require firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours per week. He claimed the change would ultimately save the city $5 million a year, but it has generated no savings in the current fiscal year.

The bitter battle between Elorza and the firefighters has led to protests from the union and accusations from the administration that firefighters have sabotaged his plan by fabricating injuries in order to prevent the city from generating any savings. (The city has produced little evidence of its claim and the firefighters have strongly denied any wrongdoing.)

“Although I’ve had my disputes with the firefighters’ union, I have seen the work our firefighters do each day and let me tell you, we have the finest fleet of firefighters any city can have,” said Elorza.

Elorza also took the time early in his speech to recognize former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr, who died Jan. 28 at the age of 74. Elorza said Cianci’s “mark on the city of Providence will never be forgotten.”

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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