Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza brought his campaign for long-range fiscal planning to Summit Monday evening.
Speaking to about 20 members and guests at the regular monthly meeting of SNA’s board of directors at Summit Commons, 99 Hillside Ave., he said, “I am truly committed to getting our house in order.”
Elorza said the city is facing a long-term challenge of a structural deficit where expenses are growing faster than revenue because of unsustainable past commitments. He cited compounding cost-of-living-adjustments made by previous administrations that did not make the required payments to retirement funds for decades. “Current employees are not the problem,” the mayor said.
The city has hired outside consultants, he said, to provide an extensive list of options to resolve the problem, but bankruptcy is not one of them. “Technically, you have to be insolvent, so we may not qualify” under state and federal law, Elorza explained, and “Providence has a lot to work with.”
Responding to a question about selling the city water supply system, Elorza said privatizing it was not an option but “regionalizing” it on the model of the Narragansett Bay Commission was, but would have to be a “very complicated” process.
The mayor said the “basket of recommendations” offered by the consultants include: long-term planning; creating a capital budget and investing in infrastructure; making taxes and fees more competitive; and addressing unsustainable legacy costs.
He said the city needed to rebalance its relationship with its nonprofits by seeking payments in lieu of taxes at parity with a standard rate of valuation. He also said “we need a grand bargain with union leaders and retirees” for a one-time lump-sum payment to make sure pensions are there when needed.
The mayor said more details are contained in his current budget proposal which may be examined online at openbudget.providenceri.gov.
Elorza declared that “we have a tremendous crisis but also a remarkable opportunity” to solve the city’s financial problems, but “once we face this challenge, I truly, truly believe Providence will be among the next great cities.”