WARWICK, RI – The City Council continued Warwick Budget hearings on Mayor Frank Picozzi’s proposed $341.1 million FY23 budget Tuesday afternoon with a focus on the DPW, employee benefits and fixed costs.
The council will be back at it on Thursday at 4 p.m. in their chambers to make any proposed amendments and vote on the budgets.
The public works budget is divided into 10 departments, ranging from administration and engineering to building maintenance and the highway department.
Council President Stephen McAllister kicked off the nights budget hearings by looking at the big picture for the DPW, asking director Eric Earls how the staffing levels are overall in the department.
“We are in pretty good shape, but we do have a handful of vacancies,” said Earls. “We have two vacancies in highway, three vacancies in sanitation, one in automotive, two vacancies in building management, and one vacancy in Thayer/McDermott.”
Earls noted that there were two vacancies listed for highway supervisor, but said one of those vacancies was going to be shifted to a sanitation supervisor position.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur asked if the position should be removed from the budget, but Picozzi said he would like the vacancy to remain in the budget for now.
The mayor said that while he does not like to fill vacancies, he isn’t convinced the city doesn’t need the additional highway supervisor position.
“I’d like to get through the summer and see how it’s working,” said Picozzi. “I won’t fill (the position) unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Picozzi is proposing the inclusion of $520,000 in the public works administration budget for a full year lease on the Sawtooth Building in Apponaug to house a number of city government departments.
The highway division budget includes funding for all staff members recalled to that department, and the sanitation division includes a new sanitation supervisor.
The automotive division includes a new heavy mechanic, and in building maintenance, the division is adding one repair position and eliminating one custodian.
In the engineering department, Picozzi said there is $350,000 in savings reflected in street lighting costs as the purchase and conversion to LED lights has almost been completed.
In the field maintenance department, nine positions that were formerly assigned to the parks and recreation department now fall under public works.
Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi asked about future sanitation plans for the city, considering that the city is facing increased tipping fees at the Central Landfill in Johnston and the possibility of that landfill closing within the next 15 years.
Earls said the city is looking to issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for a transfer station in Warwick. When he was public works director in Pawtucket, Earls said there was a transfer station available and the city saw significant savings.
“You think about direct hauling, we pick up curbside and are driving to Johnston,” said Earls. “If Johnston is not an option, where are we going? It might be Brockton … and that’s not feasible.”
The proposed budget for employee benefits; which includes health insurance for current and retired employees, life insurance, sick pay bonuses, Medicare, and dental insurance; is $29,301,584. The projected cost of the employee benefits for the current fiscal year is $28,479,615.
There is a decline in healthcare insurance rates of over 1 percent from FY22 levels, but that is balanced with 35 additional contracts for firefighters.
The costs for the five pension plans administered by the city will increase almost $1.3 million, or 3.4 percent, to $39.3 million, according to the mayor’s administration.
During the public input on the employee benefits, Ward 7 resident Rob Cote and McAllister got into a slightly heated debate over the payback of healthcare co-pays by the mayor that he said were not withdrawn from the mayor (and other administrators’) checks.
McAllister said Cote could discuss the employee benefits budget during the budget hearings, but not an individual’s costs.
Cote asked why the mayor would have 65 weeks to pay back the $5,000 in healthcare costs when regular residents would not be afforded that opportunity.
“What makes him different than anybody else?” he asked. “The only thing that makes him different is that he is fiscally irresponsible, and so are the rest of them, and so are you Mr. McAllister.”
As Cote continued to talk as he left the public speaking podium, McAllister asked the city solicitor what the options are when attendees do not adhere to council decorum. The solicitor stated the president has the authority to make sure guests follow council rules of decorum, and that in the past, the Sergeant at Arms and police have helped assist when there has been unwarranted behavior.
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