Council lowers dollars it seeks from Bryant to flat $175,000

Council lowers dollars it seeks from Bryant to flat $175,000

SMITHFIELD - In a new offer to Bryant University, the Town Council has sharply reduced the amount it seeks as compensation for public safety runs to the campus, but is sticking by its insistence on a fixed annual payment instead of billing for each individual response.

At a work session Tuesday, the council unanimously approved asking Bryant for $175,000 a year, to be billed quarterly, instead of the $300,000 it originally sought.

The offer eliminates a request for an additional $150,000 every four years and also drops a request for a variety of scholarships and tuition remissions for town residents.

In another major change, the council is seeking to reduce the term of the agreement from an originally proposed 20 years to five years, so that any first-time agreement can be re-negotiated sooner in light of changing economic circumstances and Bryant's growth.

The new offer was drafted by Town Solicitor Edmund L. Alves Jr., who said it puts the two sides on virtually the same financial page and is a "good faith" estimate of the actual cost of emergency runs, based on a review of figures from a Bryant financial consultant.

He said that Bryant's latest offer to the town, to pay $756.67 for each fire and rescue call and $194.67 for each police run, would amount to nearly $162,000 a year. When rounded up with cost-of-living increases, that would be virtually identical to the town's figure, he said.

Bryant representatives, who attended Tuesday's meeting at the Senior Center but did not speak, said afterward they wanted to read the council's written draft before responding.

Municipal officials said Tuesday that billing for each individual run would create an administrative nightmare, because each call is different in terms of time spent, manpower expended, and materials used.

Police Chief Richard St. Sauveur Jr. said his department's costs for runs to Bryant sometimes continue to grow long after the responses themselves, and can far exceed the $194.62 Bryant says it would pay for each one.

In a March 11 memo to the council he cited as an example an Oct. 15 drug arrest that resulted in a suspect being held overnight for a court appearance, and which required considerable post-run staff time.

He said his department's total cost for the case was $623.19 and that "this contributes to the real reason" Bryant is willing to pay a much lower figure.

St. Sauveur said his department made 27 campus arrests in 2013, all of which resulted in "significant time beyond the run."

St. Sauveur said he is concerned that disputes would flare over per-run invoicing and that Bryant may decide not to call local police - the university security force does not have arrest power - "when police presence is appropriate."

He said such an eventuality "could easily turn into an out-of-control student population that is not being held accountable for their illegal activities..."

Fire Chief Robert Seltzer said in a similar memo that responses to the campus vary drastically depending on circumstances.

Like St. Sauveur, he said he prefers a flat payment, which he feels would "eliminate bickering back and forth over disputed claims" assure the town consistent revenue, and reduce costly time spent on billing calculations.

He said billing in his department would be especially complicated because of medical insurance reimbursements for ambulance service that can arrive months after a run is made and often do not fully cover municipal costs.

In a memo of his own, Town Manager Dennis Finlay said a fixed annual payment would protect the town if Bryant decides for economy reasons to reduce its public safety calls to the town or to privatize rescue service.

Bryant's offer to pay per run were based on cost estimates provided by the town, but municipal officials said the figures reflected routine calls and did not account for post-run expenses such as criminal prosecutions.

Solicitor Alves said Bryant was correct in asserting that the town overstated its fire-response costs, but that police cost estimates were understated.

In response to a question from Councilwoman Suzy Alba, Alves said if Bryant rejects any agreement, the town in accordance with a state law passed last year must begin billing the university for each run.

Alba said that while she supports the new offer as a means of resolving the town-grown dispute, which at times has bordered on acrimony, she was disheartened over the dropping of scholarships except for one that the school currently offers.

The town's offer stipulates that Bryant continue its existing in-kind municipal support, and that the public safety payments increase annually by any rise in the Consumer Price Index, subject to a floor of 1 percent and a ceiling of 5 percent.