How well do we know our history? I personally think history should be a mandatory pre-requisite course in order to graduate from high school, especially local history.
As I begin my reading of: “Warwick, A City At The Crossroads” by Donald A. D’Amato, I find it intriguing to learn where Warwick started and where our city is today.
Pg.8 : “The first mayor elected was Pierce Brereton, who had been city solicitor from 1926 to 1932. He was the front runner in the campaign and won easily. In 1932, Warwick was one of the few cities in the state to vote Republican, selecting Brereton and a predominantly Republican council.”
Pg. 9 : “Brereton and the Republican-dominated nine-man council had campaigned on the promise of reducing taxes, and their budget reflected the pledge since the tax rate was reduced from $2.40 to $2.35. Unfortunately, this resulted in a reduction of salaries of all city employees.”
Here we are, eighty-five years later. The city of Warwick’s longest serving “Republican” mayor, Scott Avedisian, unfortunately has never made such a campaign promise.
Excerpts from the Republican National Convention (RNC) tax platform:
Tax Relief to Grow the Economy and Create Jobs: “Taxes, by their very nature, reduce a citizen’s freedom. Our goal is a tax system that is simple, transparent, flatter, and fair.”
Fundamental Tax Principles : “We oppose tax policies that divide Americans or promote class warfare…”
Reining in Out-of-Control Spending, Balancing the Budget, and Ensuring Sound Monetary Policy: “Elected officials have over promised and overspent, and now the bills are due. Unless we take dramatic action now, young Americans and their children will inherit an unprecedented legacy of enormous and unsustainable debt, with the interest alone consuming an ever-increasing portion of the country’s wealth.”
Balancing the Budget: “Cutting spending is not enough; it must be accompanied by major structural reforms, increased productivity, use of technology, and long-term government downsizing that both reduce debt and deficits and ignite economic growth.”
The Republican Party of Rhode Island: (tax platform, excerpt):
"We believe the burden of debt is as destructive to human freedom as subjugation by conquest. Therefore government, at all levels, must exercise fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraint and must work within the confines of its resources and maximize those resources to the greatest advantage of its citizenry."
As the city's 2015 fiscal year is coming to a close, I think it's important that the citizens of Warwick know more about the tax and spend history of Warwick since mayor Scott Avedisian has been in office. The city's budgetary data is available online and the data begins with FY 2004. I had to submit a records request to the City to obtain the property tax rates for fiscal years 2000-2003.
The following timeline will take you through the next 16 years of budgets, tax increases and spending by the Avedisian administration.
Keep in mind, when Scott Avedisian first ran for the mayoral seat back in 2000, he was asked what the single most important issue was to his campaign. Scott Avedisian answered:
"Preserving our quality of life through stable taxes, environmental quality,
and good education. I seek to expand on my work and that of Lincoln Chafee."
~Scott Avedisian, Cranston Herald February 15, 2000
Here’s a tax and spend timeline under Mayor Scott Avedisian's leadership, taken right from his Annual Budget Addresses (excerpts) for fiscal budget years 2004-2016:
May 17, 2004 Budget Address: (5th budget submitted)
“We are faced with the challenge of adequately balancing the needs of taxpayers…we must all strive toward the goal of dramatically reducing the tax rate.”
*(Note: the city made a 3.18% increase in revenue off of property tax increases, and withdrew $1.7 million from city savings to balance the budget).
May 12, 2005 Budget Address:
“Fundamental change and serious realignment of city government to better serve our residents, and, in the long run, to ease the burden on our taxpayers.”
May 17, 2006 Annual Budget Address:
“The great responsibility that the taxpayers of this city have given to me, the CityCouncil and the School Committee; that careful stewardship of our city’s finances for the past six years are paying dividends; and the many positive developments we are seeing as a city.”
May 16, 2007 Budget Address: (recession):
“Each year, there have been challenges and opportunities. Each year, there have been initiatives that I would like to include but have not been able to do so due to financial constraints. Each year, there have been those in our city happy with my decisions and those unhappy with my decisions.”
May 16, 2008 budget Address:
“This has been more complicated than other years. Many outside influences have caused us to reassess the work that we do here in our community. The headlines all around us warn of recession, foreclosures, layoffs, and other fiscal downturns. “
May 13, 2009 Budget Address:
"This budget process has been the most difficult one that I have undertaken. Many outside influences have caused us to reassess the work that we do here in our community… Little did anyone know at that time that our nation was heading for what most people believe is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”
May 17, 2010 Budget Address:
"I submit my 11th budget to the City Council and the people of this great City with tremendous trepidation for the future.”
Mayor Avedisian stated:
“It should be noted that in FY09, the Governor (Carcieri) proposed a mid-year elimination of the general revenue Sharing (GRS) program to all RI cities and town amounting to $55 million. The City of Warwick’s reduction would have been $4,046,499. Ultimately, that March, the GA passed a supplemental budget that restored some municipal aid but still reduced the City’s GRS payment by over $2.2 million and allocated nothing in the current year. Balancing the state budget shortfalls on Rhode Island’s municipalities seems to have become a constant theme.”
May 17, 2011 Budget Address:
“The economic downturn has been compounded by the 2010 floods…The combination of these extraordinary events has resulted in a sizable reduction in the City’s commercial tax base and a mid-year loss of local tax revenue. The effect of these events in the upcoming fiscal year is a loss of approximately $6 million in revenue from the commercial tax base.”
May 17, 2012 Budget Address:
“ The FY2012 budget was prepared under three overriding premises: that revenue and expenditure estimates should be realistic, that core services be retained and that any tax increase be distributed among all taxpayers.”
May 14, 2013 Budget Address:
"So while there are still issues that we must remain vigilant about, there have been many positive developments to celebrate and many reasons to be optimistic about the future of this community."
*Note: recall above that “moratorium on bonded debt”… The Potowomut Fire station ended up costing an additionl $1.1 million to build which doesn’t include other furnishing expenditures. $400,000 was used from bonus payouts that the WFD declined, another $300,000 was pulled from the city’s budgeted FEMA account and another $400,000 was pulled from the city's Capital Budget.
May 17, 2014 Budget Address:
"While challenges remain, these are all signs that good things are happening- and continue to happen- in our community.”
(Recall that $800,000 city employee bonus payout)
May 13, 2015 Budget Address:
Mayor Avedisian opens up with almost 5 pages (longest budget achievement list ever) of accomplishments throughout the city. From Apponaug to Airport Rd., the new fire station, investing in new ambulance rescue apparatus and police, public works and Transwick vehicles, to finally getting around to budgeting $1 million for road repaving.
Avedisian touted the Leviton development project, a new office park on Metro Center Blvd., a Dean Warehousing Corp. Warwick facility, a Coastway Community Bank, and approving 15 loans to small businesses totaling $2.5 million. Also projects underway in the historic villages of Apponaug and Pontiac with the Pontiac mills property phase I of development beginning during the summer of 2015, runway expansion at T.F. Green, and good infrastructure.
“From neighborhood parks, to recreational facilities at Bend Street, City Park and other locations, terrific beaches and marinas, gold courses and our ice rinks and pools, Warwick offers a number of recreational opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy.”
*NOTE: when property values decrease, so does the amount that is taxable by the city, therefore reducing city revenue. The only options to counter this are to reduce spending, and/or increase taxes or find other ways to generate new revenue.
Mr. D'Amato defined Warwick as being a "City At The Crossroads" based off it's geographic location, pg. 11: "With the airport, interstate highways, and rail service, New York is easily reached, as are the ski slopes of the Northern states. Warwick is truly at "the Crossroads of New England."
I see Warwick today at another kind of crossroad, one that has the city in a crisis situation, where critical decisions must be made. The most important issues Mayor Avedisian held close to his heart when he ran back in 2000 unfortunately have never come to fruition. It seems to me that the Mayor got lost on the political roads years ago and has never returned.
History always reveals, the numbers never lie.