Finlay will lead town's negotiations with Bryant U.

Finlay will lead town's negotiations with Bryant U.

SMITHFIELD - The Town Council has appointed Town Manager Dennis Finlay the "designated point person" for upcoming negotiations with Bryant University, and the action seems to have eased some of the tension crackling between the two sides even before they begin talking.

Bryant had asked the council to name a central figure who could be a conduit for communication, and the council acceded at its Oct. 22 meeting by giving the job to Finlay or whomever he designates.

But Bryant still appears significantly put out by the council's refusal to hire a consultant to determine the specific value of police, fire, and rescue services.

Still, the appointment of a "point person" has led to optimism that "there is a path to fruitful negotiations," according to Elizabeth O'Neil, Bryant's executive director of university relations and a member of a three-person negotiating team appointed by Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley.

Town Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. said at his group's last meeting that a significant part of the point person's duties will be to ensure that Bryant receives whatever information it needs on public safety costs before talks with the council are scheduled, probably in about four weeks.

According to legislation passed by the General Assembly this year, the town can bill tax-exempt Bryant for public safety runs, unless the two sides negotiate a different financial arrangement by next March.

The town has sent Bryant a proposed, 20-year "memorandum of understanding" in which it asks for an annual payment of $300,000, a separate payment every four years of $150,000 for the purchase of public safety equipment, and a number of scholarships and tuition remissions for town employees and residents.

The council dismissed as inadequate an offer by Bryant to make a $35,000 annual payment and to donate 200 laptop computers to the high school each year for a decade at an annual value of $80,000 to $100,000.

Council members said the costs of serving the 420-acre Bryant campus on Douglas Pike are based on figures provided by municipal department heads.

Bryant has been running an advertising campaign in The Valley Breeze & Observer pressing the town to hire a consultant - at the university's expense - to come up with cost figures.

A Bryant ad in last week's issue said the school disagrees that the town can develop figures on its own and that the university is "startled" over the refusal to hire a consultant because "there are many complex issues involved."

Among them, the ad said, are the fact that the town gets reimbursements from third-party health insurers for ambulance runs to the campus, and also receives an annual payment from the state because of Bryant's presence here, which the ad put at $568,000.

The ad asserted that the amount sought by the council "has nothing to do with the actual cost of public safety services, and is an overreach that will make negotiations difficult."

Town Manager Finlay has said he believes the cost estimates supplied by public safety department heads are accurate.

The council is split 3-2 on the consultant issue, with Democrats Bernard Hawkins and Suzanna Alba and Republican Ronald Manni against the outside hiring, and Republicans LaGreca and Maxine Cavanagh in favor.

Bryant's O'Neil, who attended last week's council meeting and has been present at several others recently, declined to gauge exactly how much of an impediment the disagreement over hiring a consultant might be once talks start.

But she said she left the session encouraged and "very optimistic" that the two sides will eventually find common ground.

Figures cited by both sides vary widely on how much Bryant would pay under the town's 20-year plan. Cavanagh recently said the town's proposal would cost the school a total of $10 million, while the recent Bryant ad put the cost at $22 million.