East Providence Budget Commission talks TANs, renews refuse contract
EAST PROVIDENCE — At its bi-weekly meeting Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, in Room 306 of City Hall, the East Providence Budget Commission discussed the need to secure Tax Anticipatory Notes (TANs) and renewed the city's current refuse/recycling collector.
As it does annually due to the discrepancy in the city and state fiscal year, East Providence must rely on using TANs to cover most of expenses through the first half of 2013.
On the agenda Thursday was a request to seek an advance in state aid from Smith Hill, which the city was able to do last year but only because of the specific legislation written that also instituted the Budget Commission as East Providence's overseer.
Commission member Michael O'Keefe, who worked closely with the state's Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly in helping craft the legislation, said he was opposed to seeking an advance in aid.
Mr. O'Keefe stressed the need for City Manager Peter Graczykowski and Finance Director Malcolm Moore to accelerate the procurement of the TANs first. Mr. Graczykowski countered by saying it would behoove the city to get the aid first then the TANs, claiming it would save East Providence some $166,000 in interest payments on the roughly $25 million it needs to borrow.
"I want to go on record that I said 60 days ago (city administrators) needed to get the TANs secured," Mr. O'Keefe noted, exempting Mr. Moore a bit because he hasn't been on the job that long.
"The purpose of this legislation was not to enable you to get lower interest rates," Mr. O'Keefe continued. "It was because you weren't able to get the full amount of TANs from the banks at the time. It was never meant to be used as a subsidy."
Mr. Graczykowski remained firm in his stance in support of seeking the aid first. He recommended the Commission approve the motion to request the state funds "in the best interest of the city." Mr. O'Keefe was likewise steadfast, saying he wasn't sure acquiring the money that way would be in the city's best interest.
The issue eventually ended in a stalemate with no action taken and will be back on the Nov. 18 meeting docket. Mr. O'Keefe encouraged Mr. Moore to be more aggressive in seeking TANs from the city's financial partners. He said it should only take a matter of a week or two at the most to get the banks to agree to back the loans.
Mr. Moore hedged somewhat, saying it would likely take longer, possibly three to four weeks or until the end of the month. Mr. O'Keefe, jokingly used a Donald Sutherland line from the Clint Eastwood cult-class World War II movie "Kelley's Heroes," saying Mr. Moore had "too many negative waves" and that he needed to "think positively" and get the job done.
The city remains committed to working with Pawtucket and Central Falls to consolidate its trash and recycling collections, but East Providence needed to act immediately on the measure and the Commission agreed to renew the city's contract with current provider EnviroSafe/MTG Disposal.
In recommending the agreement, Mr. Graczykowski said Pawtucket and C.F. are still on board with the push to group their garbage collections. However, both must first reach agreements with the city workers who currently handle those duties.
East Providence has outsourced its collections for several years now and since its current contract ended on Oct. 31 it was imperative for the Commission to approve the measure Thursday.
The city will pay EnviroSafe/MTG slightly over $2 million throughout the five-year agreement, which is actually a savings of slightly over $1 million for the duration of the contract.
As it stands currently, there are no changes to the collection schedule. Trash and recyclables will continue to be picked up once a week.
Mr. Graczykowski reported to the Commission the city fared very well in comparison to other parts of the state and region during Hurricane Sandy. As of mid-day Thursday, only six customers in East Providence remained without electricity according to National Grid.
Mr. Graczykowski also updated the Commission on the move of the School Department to City Hall. He said it was going a bit "slower" than expected. The parking lot across the street adjacent to the Weaver House and Library has been expanded. The next offices to move to City Hall from Burnside Avenue are Finance and Human Resources. That will be done in the next few weeks. The entire move is expected to take another two months to complete.
In addition, Mr. Graczykowski said the Request for Proposal (RFP) to seek bids on consolidated legal representation for the City and the School Department will go out next week.
Mr. Moore reported to the Commission the City's financials continue to "look promising." As Fiscal Year 2013 commenced Thursday, Nov. 1, East Providence is taking in more revenue than it is spending, a difference of about three percent.
The Commission split a motion from the School Department. It approved the appointment of a Detention Supervisor at Martin Middle School, an item previously in the budget at a cost of $1,500 for the year. It also approved the appointment of two teacher assistants at the Career & Tech Center, one for culinary and the other cosmetology. Both positions are paid for through grant money.
The Commission tabled the third part of the motion, which requested the change in designation of an East Providence High School Art teacher from 2/5 to 3/5 or two days a week to three. The move would take the salary of the position from about $16,000 to $41,000 due mainly to the contractually olbigated benefits requirements.
Interim Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes told the Commission a class of 20-plus students was affected by the lack of a teacher for the period. When asked why it took two months into the school year to figure this out, Dr. DeGoes said schedules fluctuate and often take that long to settle.
The Commission, however, was unswayed and wanted more information on the subject before giving its approval.
Mr. O'Keefe said the decision to add another day to the position has to be weighed on need vs. cost, something the Commission must determine almost every time it makes a move.
"Basically every decision we make comes down to that same dilemma," Mr. O'Keefe added.
One last bit of business of note, the Commission approved the implementation of a Street Light Management Plan, which is expected to save the city upwards of $750,000 over the next five years.
The Commission cleared the path for Mr. Graczykowski to use one of three proposals submitted by SourceOne energy consulting firm. The option the Commission approved is the most aggressive cost-saving plan. It would eventually reduce the total number of street lights operating in the city by 1,100 or 22 percent over the next several years.