TOM WARD - Keep choking business and you won't get schools

TOM WARD - Keep choking business and you won't get schools

It was interesting to read our Pawtucket story last week regarding the modernization of the city's schools. Supt. Deborah Cylke and the School Committee's facilities subcommittee have OK'd an "approval cycle" that puts the City Council and taxpayers late in line to give permission for schools to reach into taxpayer pockets to the tune of $350 million to $500 million. To be fair, schools are calculating a 75 percent state reimbursement, so that works out to a bill of $87.5 million to $125 million for local taxpayers, over a period of many years.

Speaking for Mayor Don Grebien, Director of Administration Tony Pires sees a big $2 per thousand tax increase to fund the plan, well beyond what is allowed by state law "and," said Pires, "beyond what taxpayers can afford."

Here's the larger issue as I see it. Debate all you want in Pawtucket, but can state taxpayers afford their share, approximately $300 million, to fix one city's schools? There are ailing schools in Providence, West Warwick, Cranston, and elsewhere. To worsen the situation, when our state leaders can find some money in the seat cushions, taxpayers will be forced to pay "prevailing wage" to the school's builders, a rip-off of the first order forced on us by the unholy alliance of labor unions and the state legislators we keep electing.

Does Pawtucket need new schools? Yes, it does. But the money for those new schools can only come from a growing and thriving private sector economy, a place where businesses are allowed to prosper without the climate of a regulatory and tax hell. Right now, that's not Rhode Island. Change that climate, and you can have your schools. Keep the political status quo, and you will keep fighting with the entitled class over the state's crumbs.

* In Woonsocket, some residents have pooled their money to hire an attorney and file their long-threatened lawsuit. Their claim: The recently sent supplemental tax bills to raise $2.5 million should not have gone forward because the Statehouse legislation allowing it called for $3.75 million in savings, which plaintiffs say have not been delivered. City leaders claim otherwise. Personally, I hope the Budget Commission approves payment to file for a summary judgment from the state. Both sides could be helped by a quick decision, if possible.

* And in what seems an implausible combo as Woonsocket teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, the city will host a 125th Anniversary Block Party next Thursday evening, Aug. 29, along Main Street, from Market Square to the Stadium Theatre. Even if you don't live in the city, you're invited. Thirty thousand people are expected. James Montgomery is the headliner, and there will be 12 stages of music, food, a car show, and fun.

None of the money for the Block Party will come from taxpayers, obviously. About $70,000 will be raised in total, with a big hat tip to CVS/Caremark, which provided $25,000.

* The town of Cumberland has decided to take a new look at its ban of electronic signs along its two major commercial roads. While the review was already in place, the request by school leaders for a new sign in front of the high school served as a catalyst to move the process forward.

I admit I'm not a big fan of the signs. Political leaders are pressured because electronic signs keep getting cheaper. What's another "flat screen" for the outdoors? From posting Amber Alerts on the high school's sign, to not having a young man topple off the Dave's Marketplace sign while changing the "Saugy, $3.99" letters on a windy day, the arguments to allow new signs can be compelling. But the messages must be controlled, too, and in my view, limited to sales messages for the business where the sign is located. Allow a bit more "creativity" in this high-tech environment, and every sign will become an advertising billboard. Everyone points to Mineral Spring Avenue as an eyesore, but trust me: We can do worse.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers