Pawtucket council votes for GPS in city vehicles, shaves residential tax rate

Pawtucket council votes for GPS in city vehicles, shaves residential tax rate

PAWTUCKET - The City Council voted Monday to spend $118,000 on GPS systems for all city vehicles, finding the money to do so by revising Mayor Donald Grebien's revenue projections in his proposed budget upward.

Adding GPS to cars may or may not save the city significant money by creating more of a deterrent for employees to misuse their city cars, said the council, but creating greater accountability is morally the right thing to do given the city's recent history.

"It's a shame that we have to spend $118,000 to babysit, but it's become painfully obvious that this is what we have to do," said Councilor Thomas Hodge.

By increasing revenue projections for revenue items like zoning fines and "snow tow tickets," the council negated the impact of adding GPS to monitor employees' every move, though Grebien later said he's concerned that the city won't be able to meet at least some of those higher projections.

The council also voted to slash $390,000 in spending from Grebien's proposed budget, an amount that should cut about 10 or 11 cents off the mayor's proposed residential tax rate of $22.

The new tax rate for residents will be in the range of $21.89 per $1,000 of assessed value, down from the current rate of $23.06, but residential property values on average are way up, meaning many people won't see their taxes go down. The average increase in value for single-family homes is 7.6 percent. The value of 3,850 residential properties went down, while the value of 13,893 homes went up.

The rate for businesses will be about $33.78, up about $3, but the value of commercial properties declined by an average of 3 percent. A total of 1,405 commercial properties saw a decrease in value while 331 properties saw an increase.

With a maximum allowable increase of 4 percent on the city's tax levy (amount collected in overall taxes), this is "not a pretty budget," said Council President David Moran, but it's a "budget of necessity" given the various aspects that came into play.

Nobody likes to vote for a tax increase, said Finance Committee Chairman John Barry, especially since some residents who did not see their property values fall will be hurt financially, but this is the "responsible thing to do" for the city's future.

"Hopefully by this time next year we'll be in much better shape," he said.

Two of the factors that will contribute to all the extra spending in 2015-2016 are the possible loss of a $2 million federal grant for fire services, a reduction that's expected to increase the fire overtime budget significantly, and residents' overwhelming vote last November to spend more money on roads and schools.

The $117 million budget proposal before the council on Monday "is our next step down the road toward investing in Pawtucket to make our community an even better place to live, work, raise a family and do business in the modern era," said Grebien in his budget address. This is "the next step in our road to recovery," he said, and once again it's an "honest budget" that doesn't sugarcoat the city's situation.

The budget with a tax increase follows up two years where "we were able to provide stability" and "relief to the residents and businesses" with no tax increases, said Grebien, and with more hard work this year's budget will hopefully lead to more years in the future with no tax increases.

Grebien's lack of support on the council was clear Monday when his ally, Sandra Cano, was the only one to vote against the GPS in cars and key cuts in expenditures proposed by the finance committee.

Cano said she was opposed to the council cutting $180,000 of $200,000 proposed by Grebien to be spent out of the general fund on the senior center. The mayor had proposed that the city create a reliable funding stream for the center by moving away from using community grant dollars that continue to be reduced each year. Doing so would have freed up more grant money to be used on other community organizations, said Grebien and Cano.

But council members said that a year with a maximum tax increase is not the time to be asking taxpayers for more money. They voted instead to give $20,000 in city funding to account for this year's $20,000 cut to the grant budget.

Cano also shook her head as the finance committee voted to cut $20,000 from marketing efforts in the mayor's office, saying it would have been a small investment for a potentially big return.

But Moran said this cut and others will allow Grebien to follow through on his mantra of "doing more with less." It may be a challenge, he said, but he believes the mayor can still find a way to properly market the city.

Cano said she does favor adding GPS to vehicles to create more accountability, but not this year and not at the expense of not giving more money to key community causes.

Councilor Tim Rudd was the one who pushed for GPS tracking for vehicles, and he said Barry was in "immediate support." GPS has been a "long time coming," said Rudd.

The vote to add GPS was largely motivated by the case of Maj. Bruce Moreau, the officer caught on video by Jim Hummel using his city vehicle for personal business.

Councilor Terry Mercer said that while the GPS tracking is important, he's also looking forward to seeing officials tighten up controls on how work hours are added up, another issue in the Moreau case. That's where the bigger savings will come, he said.

The only resident who spoke at Monday's budget hearing was former City Council President Henry Kinch Jr., Grebien's opponent in the 2010 mayoral election. Kinch repeated his call for the council to lead on the GPS issue and save the city the "embarrassment" of another situation like the the one with Moreau.

Kinch also questioned whether Grebien's budget truly invests in the city's future as much as the mayor says, pointing out that nearly 40 percent of the proposed increase in spending is for overtime costs and employee raises.

Find more analysis of this week's budget summit at www.valleybreeze.com later this week.

Comments

Our CO Mayors (Zelago and Pires) and Donny ballgame are a joke

Congratulations to the City Council and Councilor Rudd for the decision to install GPS devices on all of the City's vehicles. There are a couple of questions however, that come to mind; who is going to monitor the reports coming from the GPS? what is the plan if there are violations and who will enforce them? Let's not forget that on the Police and Fire Department all are member of the Union with the exception of the Chief.
The will end up covering for each other as they normally do. Good luck.

These systems are remarkable. They can print reports on where a vehicle has been and can actually show you the route that is taken. They work from a modem on the roof of the car. Very little room for tampering. I worked hard as a member of City Council (07-11)for more accountability relative to the city's fleet. Proud to have partnered with current Council to make this much needed program a reality. Congratulations!

John Barry's comment about "hoping to be in better shape next year" shows what kind of councilman he is. Yes, he shares the heart the people when it comes to being in better shape next year. But for a councilman he should do more than just vote and hope. A more "responsible thing to do" would be to proactively work towards spending reform and tax relief. We need innovation from our reps. Barry knows we are over taxed and the city is mismanaged but what has he intentionally done to reform that?

Keeping a high tax rate high for 2 years is not "tax relief", rather it is maintaining the oppression. If he admits we have a high tax problem, shouldn't he work harder to fix it? That means lowering taxes as opposed to maintaining or raising them.
He is better than Doyle but he is becoming more set in his ways as time goes on.

I am glad you are so happy to point out how it was you who partnered with this council to bring about the remarkable gps systems on city vehicles.
It is good to hear you point out where 40% of the proposed spending would be going. If only it could remind us of all the great outcry and reforms and corruption you sought to root out of Doyle's adminisration while working so hard on the council.

Keep up the Good Work Henry! Your bringing transparency one step at a time, something this administration appears to shun away. Hopefully credit card statements are next. You definitely look out for the taxpayers best interest. Looking forward to seeing you back in a city seat soon.

Pawtucket Taxpayer, it seems you may get your wish. He appears poised for attention and the only thing exceeding his arrogance is Pawtucket's pension liability.

Sometimes a motivated citizen can do more good shining a light on bad government than a Pen wielding bureaucrat whose most advanced skill is promoting mindless status quo rather than evaluating process, eliminating inefficiencies, proactively implementing improvements and benefiting all parties concerned….it takes a brass set to accomplish this

I love the comments and exchange of opinions. The more people who get involved, the better for our city. I can be reached at 724-2611 for anybody who has questions or would like to discuss in greater detail.

Keep up the good work HK! Grebby & Pires need to go and all the other assistant mayors he has doing his job. Your the best watch dog out there. Hoping you make a comeback next election.

Bishop bend has become a neighborhood full of drug dealers, trash and transients. Take a look around. Tax payers here get minimal service for hard earned $.

the entire town gets minimal service for hard earned $......from Darlington to Bishop bend to Oak Hill......Pawtucket looks like a clone of Central Falls neighbor.....just in baby stages......it's coming

Grebby promised some more jobs to his cronies on the police and fire depts. fire dept is expecting layoffs and he's still pulling these stunts to get his people on. And FYI the police dept established an egilibility list was established in September. That list hasn't gone halfway through yet. Him and Tony want to do another recruitment soon within this year. This still comes from taxpayers to fund the advertising as well as paying cops and firefighters overtime to oversee testing from agility to written examThis guy just doesn't get it.

Great to see the Kinch name on here, willing to save us all from the evil administration.
God people, can't we do better than this retread?
So glad you have all the answers now Henry, since you were MIA while on the council.