PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A panel of Providence city councilors rejected Mayor Jorge Elorza’s plan to buy washing machines and dryers for recreation centers, but said the administration could come back with a more “fleshed-out” plan in the future.
The City Council Finance Committee removed the $50,000 line item for washing machines from the so-called “master lease,” a $15 million budget for city equipment, before passing it Tuesday. The equipment budget now goes to the full City Council.
In striking the washing machines, the committee reallocated the $50,000 to a “miscellaneous” line item that is used for cost overruns or unanticipated expenses. Chairman John Igliozzi said the Elorza administration has a month to come back with more details on the washing machine plan for the committee to consider.
“I think we need to take a step back, flesh it out, present a pilot program,” Igliozzi said. “If it’s the answer to all our ills, I will put a washer and dryer in every municipal building I can.”
Elorza first proposed the washing machines in April as a way to combat chronic absenteeism in schools, pointing out that other cities have had success with such an effort. The idea was that students who are homeless or don’t have access to clean clothes are more likely to be absent.
But the proposal was scrapped by the R.I. Department of Education, which just took control of the Providence Public School District, prompting Elorza to examine putting the washers and dryers in rec centers instead.
The reworked proposal, presented by Elorza’s policy chief Diana Perdomo, was met with skepticism from the committee.
“Why are we getting into the laundromat business?” asked Councilman James Taylor. He said he was concerned that actual laundromats would lose money if families were using free city washing machines.
Councilwoman Carmen Castillo suggested handing out vouchers for struggling families to use at local laundromats, rather than buying machines.
Perdomo said the $50,000 would cover 20 high-efficiency washers and dryers, plus the estimated cost of utilities. She said putting them in rec centers or at organizations like the Boys & Girls Club would help connect kids with other programs.
“The people who are using them may need access to other services,” Perdomo said.
She said the city is aware of 261 homeless students who attend Providence public schools.
But questions remained about who exactly would help children use the machines, and how they would be maintained. The vote was 4-to-1 to remove the washing machines from the budget.
Other items approved in the master lease Tuesday night included new police vehicles and radio upgrades, security cameras for the new Providence pedestrian bridge, a new street sweeper, a special hazards truck for the fire department, and five radar message boards that will display a driver’s speed.