Elorza says he’ll veto council’s budget plan

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I, (WPRI) — The city of Providence is starting the new fiscal year without a budget, and Mayor Jorge Elorza says he will veto the plan passed by a City Council committee over the weekend if it makes it to his desk.

He said talks with the council, which broke down last week, involved certain councilors trying to settle “petty, personal scores” rather than negotiating in good faith.

Council leaders, however, say talks were slated to continue on the day the mayor took off for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Hawaii, without notifying them he was leaving.

The full City Council is slated to vote on the $770 million plan Wednesday. It passed out of the Council Finance Committee on Saturday.

“I have never been part of such an unprofessional and petty process to get to yes, to get to a negotiated budget,” Elorza told reporters at a news conference in his office Monday morning.

Among the items he deemed petty: a nearly $40,000 cut to the salary of Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, who currently makes $161,923. The mayor’s office said he was slated to get a 2% cost of living raise, to $165,162, but the council instead proposed dropping his salary to $125,876.

“This is not based on any principled reason,” Elorza said. “This is simply based on one, maybe two council people having a personal beef with the commissioner of public safety.”

Paré declined to comment.

Elorza said talks broke down last Wednesday night, describing the evening as going from the “one-yard line” to the “one-inch yard line.”

But Erlin Rogel, the council’s chief of staff, said a meeting was to take place the next day — Thursday — which is the day the mayor took off for the conference in Hawaii.

Rogel said the mayor did not notify the council that he was leaving town.

“Welcome home, mayor, glad you’re back,” Finance Chairman John Igliozzi quipped while speaking with reporters. “It’s almost Donald Trumpian. … You start something and then you leave the country.”

Elorza countered that he could be reached 24/7 by various means of communication when he was in Hawaii.

Elorza also said budget negotiations last week were held up by certain councilors who wanted to eliminate the job of Michael McKenna, the acting deputy director of public works, and demote him back to his previous position of deputy highway superintendent.

“They wanted to eliminate that position because a particular councilperson has a personal problem with that particular deputy,” Elorza said.

Target 12 reported Friday that text messages between City Councilman Michael Correia and Highway Superintendent Sal Solomon about McKenna are now part of an internal investigation.

In the texts, Solomon replied to a list of waste pickup requests with a text reading: “WHAT ARE THESE PICK UPS WORTH TO YOU?”

Correia replied: “McKenna’s demotion.”

Correia told Target 12 he felt the city did not need the deputy director position, which was reinstated last year. Solomon said he had just been joking. Both men denied any quid pro quo was going on.

The day after the story ran, the Finance Committee came out with its budget plan. The deputy director job was retained.

Igliozzi said the committee was focused on reducing the tax hike for Providence homeowners after a recent revaluation sent values soaring. Elorza’s plan cut tax rates to make up for it but still raised taxes by $12 million.

The council’s plan would set a single tax rate of $24.56 per $1,000 of assessed value, with a 40% homestead exemption. It also retains other existing exemptions for veterans, the elderly and other groups.

“The mayor’s talking about petty issues,” Igliozzi said. “What he should be talking about is joining us, hand to hand, about how to lower his tax increase that he’s requesting, on the folks that have the biggest economic challenge in the city of Providence.”

On the commissioner of public safety’s job, Igliozzi said the position was meant to be “ceremonial.”

The council opted to fund many departments at the same levels as last year rather than approve increases requested by Elorza, including for arts, culture and tourism and for information technology. Elorza said the IT increase was necessary for more cybersecurity.

The council also eliminated some new jobs, pay raises and unfilled jobs from the budget, including the director of economic opportunity job which was recently vacated by Brian Hull. There’s now a federal probe and a city audit into the department.

It also cuts the funding for the position of fire chief, which has been vacant for nearly four years.

But the council did turn 10 temporary assistant recreation directors into full-time positions, thereby adding funding for pensions and benefits, and added four laborers in the department of public works, some of whom will work on rodent control.

Elorza’s finance director, Larry Mancini, said by his calculations the council’s budget plan is out of balance by $85,000.

“It’s not a balanced budget, so the numbers have to be right before we actually send bills out,” Elorza said. Tax bills usually go in out in July, with the first quarterly payment due July 24.

City Treasurer James Lombardi, a special advisor to the council, said the imbalance was caused by a technical error related to the reduction in personnel and payroll taxes and would be fixed in an amendment on Wednesday.

It is not yet clear if the council has enough votes to override a veto from Elorza.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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