From Warwick former city councilman Robert Cushman:
The Taxpayers’ Spin: Santa Clause arrives early in Warwick.
It is truly unfortunate that municipal leaders have resorted to the harsh criticism directed toward the Governor’s supplemental budget cutting aid to cities and towns without first examining outdated costly obligations that could save millions if eliminated.
It’s not like they were not aware of the financial problems facing the state and they were not warned of the ramifications if nothing was done to reduce local spending.
Bravo to those at the state and local level committed to not raising taxes – hopefully taxpayers will put a bull’s eye on those calling any for broad base tax increase.
The fact is municipal leaders knew the consequence of inaction and yet failed to propose significant viable solutions to control costs or challenge the General Assembly to eliminate costly state mandates that would give them the flexibility to enact policies to become more efficient.
Take the City of Warwick for example. It appears Santa Clause arrived early with Mayor Scott Avedisian’s administration paying out approximately $163,000 in sick pay bonus to top administrative officials and municipal employees on December 1.
What is a sick pay bonus? Employees, who do not use any sick leave in a year, are entitled to three day’s payment in cash on December 1. Over a twelve month period an employee who maintains a full ninety days of accruable sick leave and has not used more than two days of sick leave for that month, shall be entitled to a payment of fifty percent of one and one-fourth of his or her daily rate of pay for that month.
Who gets benefits like this in private industry?
At a time when the unemployment rate is the second highest in the country, thousands of Rhode Island’s would do just about anything to get a job, never mind asking their boss to pay them for being honest and not taking unneeded sick days.
The administration will claim that they are under contract to provide these payments. Yet, why didn’t the Mayor use the leverage he had in February when he renegotiated all municipal contracts, to eliminate these over-the-top benefits?
In fact, the mayor has over spent his sick pay bonus budget by $60,000 by including bonus pay to top city directors not mandated by contract.
On Tuesday the Warwick Beacon reported that city personnel Director Oscar Shelton stated that, “management employees (himself included) had been promised the bonus, and to take it away could have been construed as unfair. ‘It was promised. What do you do?’ said Shelton, speaking on behalf of Mayor Scott Avedisian”.
The report goes on to state, “The city, however, stands to lose approximately $7 million in state aid under Governor Donald Carcieri’s corrective action plan to balance the current year’s state budget, and municipal leaders, Avedisian chief among them, has said the cities and towns would be hard pressed to cut those costs. ‘We keep our promises,’ said Shelton. ‘And I guess the state does not.’”
What about a promise to taxpayers by municipal leaders that they will spend wisely and put an end to the annual maximum property tax increases?
Two years ago the city council and school committee passed resolutions requesting that the mayor hire outside consultants to assist in consolidation city and school information technology departments. The mayor refused to do the study claiming the council did not budget any money to fund the study. The council, in fact, suggested unused monies in the budget that could be tapped to fund the study.
Why is it that the Mayor can find $60,000 in unfunded money to pay sick pay bonus to his top brass and yet he cannot find the money to help consolidate duplicate resources in the city, saving potentially millions of tax dollars?
What makes this expenditure so egregious is that the Mayor has been one of the most vocal critics denouncing the cuts, preaching that he and other leaders have done all they can to cut spending and consolidate departments.
In the last two years, over a million dollars in Warwick tax dollars have been spent on sick pay bonuses and buyouts. That, on top of the $2 million spent for the $600 annual cap on employee-family prescription drugs, and the millions that would be saved with healthcare co-pays more in line with the private sector for all employees, would provide Warwick with more then enough to survive the proposed cuts without reducing municipal jobs, reducing services or increasing property taxes.
I suspect if you dig deep enough, sick pay bonus programs or the equivalent can be found in city and towns throughout the state.
Robert Cushman is a former Warwick City Councilman and former Chairman of the Warwick School Committee. Contact him at CushmanR@cox.net