WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — For what may have been the first time ever, the mayor of Warwick delivered a State of the City address Wednesday night.
Speaking before a crowd at Warwick Veterans Memorial Middle School, Mayor Joseph Solomon touched on a variety of topics, from the city’s budget and economic development to schools and infrastructure.
He also detailed some financial issues the city currently faces.
“In the many years leading up to my being sworn into office as mayor, our community had been led to believe that we were sailing on calm, tranquil waters,” Solomon said.
But the Democrat said his administration estimates next year’s budget will have a structural deficit of approximately $12 million, compared to the $7.4 million deficit this current fiscal year.
Solomon claimed the increased deficit is the result of decisions made by the prior administration, which was led by longtime Mayor Scott Avedisian.
Solomon said his new finance team has been assessing the state of the City’s fiscal health, and it has found a “number of factors that were overlooked or not addressed in this maintenance budget.” For example, Solomon said the city purchased street lights without funds for the planned conversion to LED technology.
The mayor also said when the budget was prepared, a new collective bargaining agreement with the fire union had not been reached and still remains unsettled.
Solomon also said he believes the former administration should have proposed a tax increase to offset any increased expenses. Instead, Solomon said the former administration’s solution was to take $3.8 million from city reserves.
“I am not pointing the finger at former Mayor Avedisian, or anyone else at this point,” Solomon said. “Many times in an administration, you rely on members of your administration and the information they provide to you. If you did not knowingly know about these activities, I’m not going to cast a negative shadow on anyone.”
Solomon said he believes the difference between his administration and Avedisian’s is his background, knowledge, and vigilance.
He also said he wants to be a “hands-on” mayor, tackling several issues in the city, including education. As city schools face a budget shortfall between $4 million and $5 million, Solomon said he’s working to address the financial crisis in hopes of enhancing the overall experience for Warwick students.
“We’re going to devote whatever assets we have available to address those needs,” he said. “But again, it’s communication, it’s cooperation, it’s discussion… that’s what’s going to bring parties together and everyone is going to have to compromise.”
During his address Wednesday night, Solomon also shed light on contracts he and his administration have been contending with since he took office.
“Shortly after I appointed our new MIS director, he discovered 5 existing, unauthorized vendor contracts that began September 1, 2017 and spanned 15 months. All together, they represent roughly $766,500.”
Solomon said since uncovering this, he and his financial director have implemented a new process that requires documented bid draw down tracking. He says, “this will improve fiscal transparency and prevent unauthorized payments from going unnoticed.”
Moving forward, Solomon said there are a few businesses he’s negotiating with in an effort to have them move to Warwick. Deals he’s already made include a new six-story Residence Inn to be built near T.F. Green Airport, and Italian eatery “Tavolo” will also open in that area soon, in the former Legal Sea Foods site.
In the Crowne Plaza property, Solomon said OrthoRI is constructing a 100,000 square foot, three-story facility. The Mayor said the city of Warwick is “becoming a destination for the medical industry.”
“As we move forward, I think there will be many positive directions and steps for this community to come,” Solomon added.
Solomon also touched on the topic of infrastructure during his address Wednesday night, saying the current budget, which has allocated $5 million to repair city streets, ensures crews will be back in Warwick’s neighborhoods when the construction season begins in the spring.
The Mayor also said the city’s aging water and sewer systems are currently of significant concern. In Wednesday’s speech, he vowed his administration would “take immediate action to address these issues in a comprehensive, effective way to prevent additional disruption to our whole community.”
The mayor gave the speech just days after he confirmed to Eyewitness News that a federal investigation is underway at Warwick City Hall. He wouldn’t say what is being investigated exactly but said it does not involve his administration.