Surprise move: City Council approves Grebien budget as is

Surprise move: City Council approves Grebien budget as is

Hodge: 'You're making a believer out of me'

PAWTUCKET - It's hard to quibble with a budget that calls for no tax increase for a second straight year, say members of the Pawtucket City Council, who approved Mayor Donald Grebien's proposed 2014-2015 budget last week without making any changes to it.

Even one of Grebien's harshest critics on the council, member Thomas Hodge, could find nothing to criticize in the administration's $112 million budget. He drew an audible reaction from the audience when he commended the mayor for a job well done.

"You're making a believer out of me," said Hodge. "Great job."

Grebien's "zero increase" budget reflects "best practices" in city government and none of the "one-time fixes" that got Pawtucket in trouble in the past, he told the council. There is none of the short-term borrowing that plagued budgets of the past, he said, and "sound management" is moving the city further than ever from the state receivership process that once threatened to overtake the city.

Grebien's administration is heralding numerous "bridges to progress," like new commercial developments and key infrastructure upgrades.

In a nod to the council, Grebien said it's "not always its role" to agree with the administration. Questions are always welcome, he said, and help create a better process in the end.

Council members were happy with a budget proposal that calls for just a 1.47 percent increase in spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Councilor John Barry III, chairman of the council's finance committee, said he applauds members of Grebien's administration for what they've done with the budget. He said the mayor is running "a pretty tight ship, and I think it shows."

Other council members echoed Barry, with Councilor Albert Vitali Jr. deeming Grebien's proposal "one of the best budgets I've seen in a long time." He commended Grebien for "trying to do the best thing for the people of the city."

Hodge said Grebien has benefited greatly from the people he's put around himself, especially Finance Director Joanna L'Heureux, a woman he says "doesn't delay, doesn't hide anything" when asked for financial information.

Hodge said Grebien isn't "quite there yet" in getting his full support, but the decisions the mayor is making are making a positive impression. The council veteran said he can't remember ever seeing two straight years of no tax increases.

"It just doesn't happen," he said.

Council President David Moran, who had planned to take part in last Wednesday's meeting via video conferencing from a medical rehab center, was not allowed to participate after the Governor's Commission on Disabilities failed to have enough members present at an earlier meeting to legally discuss Moran's application.

Moran had talked about finding some additional savings within Grebien's budget that could then be put into the city's reserve funds. The council president and others on the council have repeatedly said they would go through Grebien's budget with a "fine-toothed comb" after previous disagreements on the management of the budget.

Grebien said in an email Monday that he appreciated the "vote of confidence" in his administration from the council, especially after previously serving on the elected body himself.

The mayor said he was "surprised and pleased" by the council's action to support the Fiscal Year 2015 budget with no changes, "especially when you look back over the last few years and realize that certain members of the council have chosen to vote against everything my administration has proposed."

"As we move forward, this administration will continue to be transparent and continue the path to progress," he said.