EAST PROVIDENCE — Thursday, June 28, turned into quite a newsworthy day for East Providence as the governor chimed in on a proposed collaborative for struggling cities and towns while a local politician joined two of his municipal cohorts in drawing a line in the sand on the topic of mutual aid.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee followed through on a proposal he first touched upon at an economic development forum he held in city several weeks, as he issued an executive order creating a task force to identify ways for financially strapped cities and towns, East Providence being among them, to save money by sharing municipal services. The governor made his plans known through a press release.
Pawtucket and Central Falls, the latter also under state control, were specifically mentioned in Gov. Chafee’s statement.
Also according to the release, John Simmons, executive director of the independent Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, will lead the task force, which will include representatives from each city and the state’s revenue office. The task force is commissioned to make recommendations to each of the three cities on ways they can save money by combining and share services.
“The time has come for the idea of shared services to be seriously examined,” Gov. Chafee was quoted as saying in the statement. “This panel will lay the groundwork for interactions between municipalities to help them achieve significant efficiencies and savings in cost areas they share in common.”
Mutual aid dispute
While the governor was looking for ways for the city to save money, City Council president Bruce Rogers joined Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi at a press conference announcing the three neighbors of the capital city planned to end their participation in the fire department mutual aid program as of Aug. 28.
According to numbers quoted by Councilman Rogers and confirmed by East Providence Fire Chief Joseph Klucznik, city fire department vehicles were called to assist Providence 562 times in 2011. Of those calls, East Providence actually followed through on 401. In contrast, Providence answered just under 50 mutual aid calls in return. Mayors Polisena and Lombardi cited similar statistics.
“The money we spend (on mutual aid) way over-exceeds what is given back to us,” Councilman Rogers said.
Said Mayor Polisena, “We are no longer going to subsidize the City of Providence.” He added, each city requested Providence pay an initial reimbursement fee of $500 per run, but officials from the capital did not respond.
For his part, Chief Klucznik said the concerns about mutual aid are not new. He said he’s been working on the matter since at least 2008. He added he’s had ongoing, but unofficial, discussions about the subject with acting Providence Fire Department Chief Michael Dillon. Chief Dillion, his counterpart said, has helped in decreasing the number of mutual aid calls made by Providence from a high of over 800 in 2008 to what is expected to be under 500 this calendar year.
“Let me be clear, “ Chief Klucznik continued, “this is not a battle between the East Providence and Providence fire departments. This is a battle between the politicians.”
On a different topic, Chief Klucznik said as always during the celebration of the Fourth of July he has safety worries in regards to fireworks, especially the illegal variety, but there has yet to be a reported incident of serious injury or fire.
“Of course it’s a concern when fireworks aren’t used properly,” the chief said. “A lot of the people using these fireworks have no training. We’re always concerned when fireworks, illegal fireworks, are not under the control of trained people.”
Chief Klucznik did not have any official confirmation as of earlier in the week, but it appeared as though a request by residents in Riverside’s Sabin Point neighborhood to once again hold a traditional Fourth of July bonfire would be granted.
Some 86 people signed an internet petition seeking to bring back event, and it looks like the parameters of doing so have been met. Chief Klucznik said he was working on ironing out the final details with E.P. Police Chief Joseph Tavares. A different area, clean wood and reimbursement to the city for police and fire details were part of the compromise to bring back the bonfire, which is set to take place Saturday night, July 7, at 6:30. The only thing holding back finalization of the plan was proof of insurance by the organizers.
More department notes
As the lead grant writer, the EPFD and Chief Klucznik recently received approval from the Budget Commission to seek a request for proposal to re-fit and re-power fire boats for nearby departments.
The Commission, however, tabled an EPFD request to award a contract to construct a mobile fire training structure.