EAST PROVIDENCE — Almost 15 months to the day of its installation, the East Providence Budget Commission wrapped up its oversight of the city Thursday, March 28, with one final formal meeting in its familiar setting of Room 306 at City Hall.
When the Commission came to East Providence in late December of 2011, the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, its school department nearly $7 million in the hole, it was likely about to miss its municipal payroll and its creditors and ratings agencies had all but ended its ability to raise capital.
Turn the clock to early spring of 2012 and after the Commission’s efforts, appreciated by some and derided by others, East Providence rests on the precipice of a renewal, its credit rating and borrowing power back on the rise, its school debt completely paid off and several new, taxpayer-friendly employee contracts in tow.
Thursday, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, who penned the Financial Stability Act creating the entity known as the Budget Commission into law, and Rosemary Booth Gallogly, State Director of Revenue whose department implemented the statute, praised the six current and former Budget Commission members as well as their support staff for their toils.
“I want to offer thanks, on the part of the State of Rhode Island, to the volunteers. I want to thank you for the all the time you put into this. You made a big difference,” Gov. Chafee said to the Commission’s three unpaid members — Diane Brennan, Stephen Bannon and Michael O’Keefe. They along with East Providence City Manager and past and present City Council Presidents Bruce Rogers and James Briden comprised the Commission.
“The Legislature passed the Fiscal Stability Act, creating the Budget Commission. And East Providence was the first community in distress under it where the state had to intervene,” the Governor continued. “I know how much good work you’ve done. I saw the press release, three pages-worth of good work. I want to again thank you for your time and effort.”
The press release the Governor referenced highlighted most, though not all of the accomplishments of the Budget Commission. He made particular mention of the work the Commission did in helping reduce the percentage of East Providence students in Special Education programs, the improved ratings from credit agencies and the City Charter amendment the Commission initiated to change East Providence’s fiscal year to conform with that of the state and most other municipalities. Gov. Chafee also talked about the consensus most issues received from the Commission members.
“So many 5-0 votes. You don’t see that very often,” the Governor added. “It’s been very successful. I know the future of the East Providence is going to live up to ‘Townie Pride.'”
Mrs. Gallogly, whose office will continue a five-year period of oversight of the city also written into the Fiscal Stability Act, highlighted a few of the other Budget Commission accomplishments: the establishment of a ‘Rainy Day’ Fund, funding of a new wastewater treatment plant, participation by the city in the state-run Tax Off-Set Program, and the implementation of a five-year fiscal budget plan.
“One of the most important things the Budget Commission did was stabilize the cash flow. It also reduced shorter term borrowing needs. It developed a long-term, balanced budget,” Mrs. Gallogly said. “Hopefully the diligence brought forward by the Budget Commission process and the consensus way it worked will be cemented under city leadership in the future.”
Though the Commission met formally for the final time, it has not been completely abolished. If and until an Administrative and Financial Officer is hired to serve as a liaison between the state and the city, Mrs. Gallogly said the Commission will remain seated but will not meet on a regular basis. Commission staff member and city native Christy Healey will serve in the AFO role until the issue is resolved.
“We will have some sort of oversight over the five-year period, but at this time we feel that oversight can best be done by the people of the City of East Providence,” Mrs. Gallogly added.
In her closing remarks, Mrs. Brennan, who served as Budget Commission chairman the last several months, also recognized the residents of the city and praised them for their cooperation during the process.
“I want to thank the people of East Providence for allowing us to come in and do what we needed to do. I think we’ve been very successful. It wasn’t always easy, but we got there,” Mrs. Brennan said. “The table has been set for the city to move forward.”