To the Editor:
In the more than 5½ months that have passed since I was sworn in as Mayor, I am proud of what we have accomplished for the City in a short amount of time, building on my experience and record I established throughout my 18 years on the City Council.
Fiscal responsibility has always been a priority of mine. On the City Council, I sponsored legislation that requires competitive bidding for purchases over $2,500 and for health care contracts. The latter has saved taxpayers over $20M so far. I also sponsored legislation that requires ratification of collective bargaining agreements, in a public and transparent manner for our taxpayers.
Recently, concerns were raised relative to the issue of firefighter sick time payouts. As soon as I took office, I began investigating these concerns and discovered a side agreement that had been in place for five years under the prior administration. This agreement, which was never disclosed to the public or the City Council, has cost taxpayers a significant amount of money and has resulted in fund drawdowns that were also not publicly disclosed. Within days of my discovery of this side agreement, the policy was rescinded. I am hopeful that the arbitrator will rule in the city’s favor so that this costly practice – agreed to without public vetting or the Council’s approval – ends for good. I can assure Warwick’s residents that no such “side agreements” will be enacted if I am elected mayor.
As soon as I was sworn in, I also commissioned the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council – a well-respected, non-partisan organization – to examine our finances. Even as we await the final report, we have, however, with RIPEC’s input, already restructured personnel within the Finance Department so that there is a succession plan in place and employees are cross-trained, which will ensure that audits will be completed on time to give us a clear picture of our financial situation as we prepare next year’s budget.
I have also long been an advocate for our public school system. I am supporting the $40M local bond that will help us to make critical repairs to our school infrastructure so that our children are learning in a safe, healthy environment. Together with the $1.5M in increased funds the Council allocated to schools in this fiscal year, I have offered the School Department an additional $1.75M to restore cuts that have been made to many vital services and programs, such as janitorial staff and the Mentoring program. I continue to meet with school officials and the council to reach a resolution to the budgetary shortfall.
I am also committed to improving the long-strained relationship between the City and Schools. Along this vein, I plan to hold monthly meetings with representatives of our PTAs and PTOs. Having open honest discussions with parents and teachers about their concerns – both district-wide and relative to their particular school – will help us to more efficiently and proactively address any issues that arise. Establishing a direct line of communication between these organizations is important because it will give me a clearer understanding of the issues from those who are in our schools on a daily basis.
We know that good infrastructure is vital to ensuring not only safe neighborhoods but economic development. We increased the road paving budget to $5M for this fiscal year, and crews have been busy making improvements to roads throughout our city. I am also sending out a comprehensive, competitive bid request to replace our antiquated street lights with more cost efficient, environmentally-friendly LED technology. The savings from this will also help us to turn on many streetlights that have been “red capped” for many years to make our neighborhoods safer. A number of municipal buildings are presently vacant. I will work cooperatively with the council to sell or lease these properties so that they are placed back on the tax rolls.
We are also working to improve our neighborhoods and will be launching several programs, including “adopt an island” and playground improvement initiatives as well as stronger minimum housing standard enforcement to reduce blight and make our community more attractive and safer.
A robust and diverse business base is key to the success of any community. In the short time I have been mayor, I have visited upwards of 50 companies, both as part of my weekly “One-on-One” business program and to celebrate ribbon cuttings, groundbreaking ceremonies and expansions of companies throughout the city. I will continue these efforts so that, as a community, we can better understand our business’ needs and make it more convenient for them to operate successfully here. We’ll also be streamlining the review and approval process to benefit developers and residents alike.
While on the Council, I sponsored a Tax Stabilization Agreement for City Centre Warwick, which is already seeing dividends in the investment of tens of millions of dollars in private development – and the creation of hundreds of jobs – in this signature centerpiece development concept near the airport. I’m working to create an innovative hub to support CCW so that we can maximize the tremendous potential in this transit-oriented neighborhood.
I have long worked to make sure that our seniors can remain in our community. I have supported senior and veterans’ tax exemptions. My first act after being sworn in as mayor was to suspend the beach fee program so that seniors on a fixed income weren’t denied access to our beautiful shoreline. Last week, we began roof repairs on the Buttonwoods Community Center – the first step in reopening the facility for municipal use, with a senior/community room to be available for the public’s use.
In addition to these initiatives, what I have greatly enjoyed has been the opportunity to be out in the community and hear our residents’ ideas and concerns firsthand. Whether it’s at the senior center, in our schools, local sporting events or during business visits, I have welcomed the chance to meet our citizens and speak with them directly.
I am enthusiastic about what we have accomplished in such a short time and energized to continue to work on behalf of this terrific community my family and I have called home for more than 40 years.
I am determined to continue to build on my efforts to date to increase jobs and economic development opportunities throughout the city; to continue to invest in our infrastructure; to improve our neighborhoods and ensure they are safe and attractive; to make sure that Warwick remains a great place to live while remaining affordable for all residents, particularly young families and seniors; and to continue to work to improve the relationship between the city and schools.
Today, I urge our residents to exercise their right to vote. I ask for your vote so that we can continue the momentum we have begun to make Warwick even better.
Mayor Joseph J. Solomon