East Providence expects upwards of $29 million in COVID relief funding

Council approves renewed contract with Local 15509, back revised police candidate qualifications

By Mike Rego
Posted 6/16/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — City side Finance Director Malcolm Moore, for the first time publicly, confirmed at the June 15 meeting of the council East Providence will receive upwards of $29 million …

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East Providence expects upwards of $29 million in COVID relief funding

Council approves renewed contract with Local 15509, back revised police candidate qualifications

Posted

(Updated, corrected, June 22, 9 p.m.) EAST PROVIDENCE — City side Finance Director Malcolm Moore, for the first time publicly, confirmed at the June 15 meeting of the council East Providence will receive upwards of $29 million total from the COVID-19 pandemic relief package passed by Congress earlier this spring.

The city will benefit from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) approved by the Democratically controlled House and Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden some two months ago.

At the behest of Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato, Director Moore said the city has just received the first portion of APRA funds, saying $9.2 million was provided in mid-May. The second portion, or as he called it “tranche,” will be provided to East Providence some time over the next year.

Some of the ARPA money is also coming to the city from the federal government via the state. Director Moore said the expectation is for half to be provided this month with the other, again, being allotted within a 12-month period.

Director Moore, Director of Administration Napoleon Gonsalves and City Solicitor Michael Marcello each told the council the parameters around the use of the funds has yet to be finalized. Mr. Marcello said, “The guidance on this is coming out on a daily basis.”

When set, however, the solicitor said the administration will follow the City Charter in terms of how to appropriate the monies, gaining council approval when necessary.

Potential uses

Mr. Mourato, who like the rest of the council was provided with a broad outline of provisions within the acts just prior to last week’s meeting, inquired about the potential uses of the monies.

Director Moore said at the moment it appears such things as water/sewer projects, broadband/internet infrastructure and roads will most certainly be approved spending. So, too, apparently are things in the “public interest,” such as assisting families in need for burial expenses associated with the pandemic and aiding businesses through low-interest loans. Also, municipalities are being asked to implement precautionary policies to counteract any potential future fiscal impacts caused by similar emergency situations.

Key as well, Director Moore said, is the city will be able to use some of the funding to make up for any budgetary shortfalls created by the pandemic, which he noted currently were approaching $2 million in losses for Fiscal Year 2020-21.

Mr. Mourato suggested the city look into using some of the funds for such projects as a tie-in with the Pawtucket system for a second source of water, other water-sewer needs, the continuation after the current contruction season of the $12 million, three-year road repair effort initiated by the previous council and fixing the crumbling Larisa Park seawall in Riverside.

To the chagrin of some in the audience last week and of others in the community, Mr. Mourato noted there was “no mention of purchasing of open space or public space” in the 155-page guidance document, something proponents of the city’s taking of the former Metacomet Country Club through eminent domain had proferred.

At-Large member Bob Rodericks, taking a cue from Mr. Mourato’s comment, asked the administrators to clarify that the city did not have “a blank check” to use the monies at will.

Director Gonzalves said, no, the city could not use the funds for anything it wanted and, in fact, could not use the money to offset any existing expenditures. He said the monies are for new projects only. Allocations for the projects must be made no later than December 2024 and they must be completed by December 2026.

Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon, a federal employee, confirmed the timeline, saying federal monies have at the most have a “five-year clock from time appropriated to the time spent” while some have three years or as little as one.

New Local 15509 pact

Also last week, the council approved a contract renewal negotiated by the administration with United Steelworkers Local 15509, the bargaining unit for most Department of Public Works, Parks, Highway, Central Garage, Engineering employees as well as police dispatchers, Animal Control officers and clerical positions within the police department.

The contract is three years in duration, back-dated to the start of the current fiscal year on November 1, 2020. It concludes on October 31, 2023.

Solicitor Marcello, the lead negotiator for the office of Mayor Bob DaSilva, said, “I will say negotiations were very cordial and very professional throughout and both sides, in my opinion, negotiated in good faith.”

He credited the union with agreeing to no salary increases in the first year of the deal, due to the “uncertainty of the city’s finances” during the pandemic. The second year sees a two percent increase with one percent increases every six months thereafter until the contract expires.

Solicitor Marcello said healthcare co-pays will be dependent on the salary made by each employee, ranging from 10 to 15 to 20 percent. Those employees making $60,000 or more will share 20 percent of their healthcare costs.

An ask of the administration, specifically the mayor, was to have staffing available on the weekends in the Parks Division to maintain spaces throughout the city to which Local 15509 acquiesced.

Another concession from the union, which Solicitor Marcello said the administration was “excited” about, is a change in daily work hours. Most employees will likely soon follow a schedule of Monday-Wednesday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. The change, according to the solicitor, will take place in concert with the union representing City Hall employees agreeing to the same terms during its on-going negotiations.

Local 15509 also agreed to change the structure of longevity pay (annual bonus) for new employees hired under the revised contract. Employees going forward with five years of service will receive four percent of their base pay instead of six, 10 years: five from seven, 15 years: six from eight and and 20 years: seven from nine percent

Prior to the council vote, Solicitor Marcello said, “All in all I think the contract is fair for both sides. Both sides each gave a little.” He added, “I want to thank my team for doing a really good job negotiating and I’d also like to thank the union for their participation, which was a lengthy, but again a professional process.”

Police recruitment

The council, in addition, gave the first of two necessary affirmative votes on an update to Part II of the Revised City Ordinances, Chapter 12 subsection 18-6, “Police,” on qualifications necessary to apply to become an East Providence Police officer.

At the body’s meeting earlier in June, Elmer Pina, the city’s Affirmative Action Officer/Human Services Director, joined Director Gonsalves in urging the council to consider changing existing language.

Last week, the council agreed, removing the following text, “The applicant must have an education at least equal to the completion of an associate degree (60 credit hours) from an accredited college or university. Two years of honorable active military service or four years of reserve or national guard duty may be substituted for the educational requirements. Likewise, certification from the state municipal police academy as municipal police officer, or three years of satisfactory employment as a correctional officer may be substituted for the educational requirement.”

In its place and upon second approval, an EPPD applicant “must have an education at least or equal to a high school diploma or GED.” The completion of an associates degree or 60 college credit hours will no longer be a requirement.

Messrs. Pina and Gonsalves told the council the difficulty in new officer recruitment is not just a local problem, but national in scope. Mr. Gonsalves said the administration had been discussing the situation for the last several months, attempting to come up with a revised philosophy and strategy.

Mr. Pina said the city will be enhancing its engagement with the community, reaching out to potential recruits through high school schools and colleges as well as social media platforms while also continuing to draw upon minority and female candidates.

The change in the qualifications, Mr. Pina emphasized, was not an attempt to “dumb down” the pool, but rather to expand it. He noted other like municipalities such as Cranston recently made the same change to its process and in Warwick the 60 college credit requirement had been reduced to 30 in either law enforcement or criminal justice.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.