Town accepts Bryant's latest offer on campus calls

Town accepts Bryant's latest offer on campus calls

Bryant stayed firm on per-run payment for police, fire, rescue

SMITHFIELD - After years of disagreement that threatened to poison the relationship between the town and Bryant University, the two sides appear closer to striking a deal over how the university will pay for municipal public safety runs to the campus.

Although a devil may still lurk in the details, the long-term logjam appeared to ease considerably Tuesday, when the Town Council unanimously agreed to accept Bryant's latest offer of paying $756.67 for each fire or rescue call and $194.62 for every police response.

The figures are based on town estimates for "average" runs to the campus, although municipal officials had said actual costs often exceed those figures.

For its part, Bryant had said it considered the town's estimates excessive, but that it would accept them to resolve the dispute.

Until its Tuesday vote, in which it suggested a three-year agreement, the council had been seeking a lump-sum annual payment from Bryant of $175,000.

The council's change of heart came at the suggestion of Town Solicitor Edmund L. Alves Jr., who said it had become clear that Bryant - which at one point threatened legal action - wouldn't pay a lump-sum fee.

Alves asserted that accepting the school's latest offer "will give the town a source of revenue and quell this dispute with Bryant."

Councilman Ronald Manni, who has long been outspoken in demanding that Bryant pay for the services it receives, said, "I had hoped for a little more," but that he recognized the school's latest offer as "a gesture to move this forward."

The town was seeking a lump-sum payment to avoid the administrative complications of calculating the cost of each run, which varies depending on the circumstances of the emergency.

But Alves had noted previously that Bryant's flat-rate, per-run offer, once deductions were made for reimbursements the town gets from medical insurers, would put the two sides on the same financial page.

Under the plan, which the council will send to Bryant for approval, the town would bill $25,000 quarterly, to be adjusted later up or down depending on how many runs were made.

In 2013, the town responded 286 times to fire and rescue calls, and police made 107 runs to the Douglas Pike campus.

In a letter to Town Manager Dennis Finlay dated April 10, Elizabeth O'Neil, Bryant's executive director of university relations, wrote that Bryant would not accept the town's $175,000 offer.

She said a state law passed last year is "very clear" in stating that unless the town and Bryant agreed to a different arrangement, the town could bill the university for "the actual costs for police, fire, and rescue services supplied."

Municipal officials had said that to bill for the exact cost of each public safety run would create an administrative nightmare, since each response involves different circumstances, staffing, and use of equipment and materials.

The town's fire and police chiefs had said that costs for responses vary so dramatically that they prefer a flat annual payment based on reliable estimates.

This is a potential sticking point, because in her April 10 letter O'Neil suggested Bryant would be willing to accept flat quarterly payments, but only if the payments are reconciled later with actual costs of each run.

She proposed that the two sides could jointly hire an independent accounting firm to determine the cost of individual runs during each quarter.

Under that plan, she said, Bryant could be credited in any quarter where costs were lower than the estimate, and would reimburse the town for any quarter in which municipal costs exceeded estimates.

The proposal approved by the council Tuesday would adjust payments for the number of runs, but not for the actual costs of each one.

Alves told the council Tuesday that attempting to come up with actual costs would create "considerable administrative difficulties" that could lead to disputes and even litigation.

He said he is confident, on the basis of an offer made in February by Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley, that the town's latest offer will be accepted based on the number of runs.

Bryant officials could not be reached for reaction before press time.

During Tuesday's meeting, Councilwoman Suzanna Alba asked about concerns from town public safety officials that Bryant might try to reduce its calls for town assistance to save money.

Alves replied that the school is trying to reduce its calls because some of them were found to be unnecessary, but added, "I don't believe they would do anything to jeopardize the students or the community there. They are smart, intelligent people and will do the right thing."

The town over the past several years had been intensifying its effort to persuade Bryant to pay for municipal public safety services, saying that it was the lone holdout among other colleges and universities in the state that now pay their host communities.