Council reviews public safety, new EPHS project during first FY22 budget workshop

Hears very good news surrounding high school financing

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/9/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council last week began its review of the $177,570,346 Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposed by the administration of Mayor Bob DaSilva, doing so during the first in a …

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Council reviews public safety, new EPHS project during first FY22 budget workshop

Hears very good news surrounding high school financing

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council last week began its review of the $177,570,346 Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposed by the administration of Mayor Bob DaSilva, doing so during the first in a series of scheduled non-binding workshops the evening of September 8.

The council took deeper dives into the expenditures being considered for the fire and police departments as well as city-side finance.

From the EPFD, the FY22 budget proposes adding a fourth full-time rescue out of Station 3 in Rumford. According to Chief Glenn Quick, the cost of operation for the fiscal year is approximately $1.2 million.

The rescue, which would complete the complement of like vehicles in each of the city’s four fire stations, has been in service and paid for through overtime and mutual aid compensation. The chief said if incorporated into the annual budget some eight firefighters/EMTs would be required to man the rescue throughout the year.

As well, the EPFD is planning to hire a substantial amount of new firefighters to fulfill minimum staffing requirements in its collective bargaining agreement along with replacing current employees expected to retire over the next several months.

The department, Chief Quick said, is anticipating receipt of $7.3 million over three years in federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant monies in support of the effort, which would fund the salaries of the some two dozen hires over the span of the grant.

The grant is notable because the fire department will need to bring on new personnel regardless. If the federal dollars don’t come through, then the city would need to include the cost in the next fiscal year budget. According to Mayor DaSilva that would mean the proposed property tax increase would rise from .59 percent to 1.37 percent.

Chief William Nebus took questions regarding the FY22 outlay being considered for the police department, the most noteworthy exchange taking place about the administration’s proposal to finally see a long-standing proposal to combine the police and fire dispatch groups into a single entity.

The chief explained the centralization of dispatch into a call center located at the aforementioned Fire Station 3 was part of the original intention when the building was constructed at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and North Broadway back in 2003.

To make it operational some 18 years later, however, would required the space to be renovated to meet current working conditions and technological needs. Chief Nebus said the proposal was still in the conceptual stage and that although he would prefer dispatch operations maintain the status quo, he acknowledged their were reasons why the change would be viable.

The discussion prompted a somewhat heated exchange between the mayor and Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato, who sparred a bit over the proposal in general and how the appropriations were presented. Councilor Mourato wondered why no feasibility or cost studies had been done in anticipation of the changes. Mayor DaSilva, who called the councilor’s motivation in questioning the move “political” in nature, said the administration was being forthright with its estimates and that consolidation would improve the dispatching processes for both police and fire calls.

New EPHS/Finance
On a more positive note, city-side Finance Director Malcolm Moore, at the behest of Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon during talks about his department, led the body through an updated review of the earmarks included in the FY22 budget for the new East Providence High School project.

Mr. Moore said the city projected interest rates initially to be around four percent when it started bonding for the project nearly two years ago, but the actual rate came in at 2.06 percent. He added in concert, the lower than expected interest rate and the percentage of state support, the city expects to save about $15 million through the duration of the bonding timeline.

The project has consistently been on time and under-budget since it began in June of 2019, “which is almost unheard of…We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and it hasn’t,” Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Cahoon credited Mr. Moore for his role procuring the bonds, who in turn deflected platitudes to acknowledge many others on both the city side and in the school department.

To date, the city has been reimbursed by the Rhode Island Department of Education at 69 percent on the first $30-plus million it has bonded for the project. Eventually, the percentage will rise to 74 after RIDE approved various components of construction earlier this calendar year.

To receive the full 74 percent compensation from the state the entire project must be considered “substantially complete,” which it won’t be for another year, according to Mr. Cahoon.

The building proper was ready for the start of 2021 term two weeks ago, but the rest of grounds — athletic fields, tennis courts, lighting, parking and bus routing — won’t be done until around the start of 2022 term.

Said, Mr. Cahoon, “all of that is a substantial amount of work that has not yet happened,” though he said it is likely to be nearly finished by the end of the state’s current fiscal year of June 30, 2022.

When that occurs, Mr. Moore said the city will receive in school housing aid from RIDE the difference on what it is paying currently as well as a full fiscal year allocation, terming it a “double-dip” and allowing for those monies combined to be earmarked in time for the next budget season.

Remember, East Providence’s fiscal calendar, November to October, is not aligned with that of the state, July-June, which meant the project did not meet requirements for '22, though it will be of benefit for '23.

In addition, Mr. Cahoon, who serves as the new EPHS Building committee chairmanship with At-Large School Committee member Joel Monteiro, told his colleagues the guaranteed maximum price the district negotiated with contractors is $186.8 million or $2.7 million below the initial $189.5 million projection.

The city/school district will be reimbursed on 74 percent of $136.5 million in costs associated with the entire project, which is nearly $100 million. Ultimately, pending the amount of interest payments, Mr. Moore said East Providence will likely be responsible for a total of roughly $140-$150 million for the new high school.

Next workshops
The council cancelled a previously scheduled workshop for September 15, replacing it with two others.

The gathering on Wednesday, Sept. 22, is to include DPW, water/sewer and capital improvements and potentially council and clerk’s office, depending on the duration of discussions earlier in the evening. And another set for Monday, Sept. 27, will include the balance of remaining items/departments.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.