Council seeks guarantee on McCoy police details

Council seeks guarantee on McCoy police details

Administration emphasizes $113,000 did not come from taxpayers

PAWTUCKET – The city agreed to cover the cost of $113,000 in police details around McCoy Stadium last summer because officials strongly believed the Pawtucket Red Sox team would stay here, say members of Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration.

“We were shocked that they pivoted to Worcester,” Director of Administration Dylan Zelazo told The Breeze. “This was very much a show of good faith to them, it made sense, and didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime in the end.”

Officials obviously believed the money would be returned many times over with the planned finalization of a new baseball stadium at the Apex site in the downtown, said Zelazo. The money came from a special revenue account and “was not funded by tax dollars.”

City Council members last Wednesday approved a letter at Councilor John Barry III’s request that the administration guarantee in writing that there are “no free services being given to the PawSox this year,” a response to news that the city had covered the cost of police details at McCoy during last summer’s baseball season.

Zelazo responded this week that the team will “pay for everything they typically pay for” in a given baseball season this summer, and there are no plans to cover the costs the city paid when the stadium deal was still a possibility last summer.

“The mayor was very clear on record this was a one-time accommodation,” he said. “It’s not going to take place in the future.”

Barry said he’s “not trying to bust chops,” but believes this was taxpayer money involved. He said a story by WPRI last week on the police details generated more than the average number of phone calls, with residents questioning the idea of giving money away when the city is looking at a tax increase.

According to that story, records showed 440 officer details during the 2018 season, but due to a handshake agreement between Grebien and the team, the team never reimbursed the city. The team paid $68,000 in 2016 and $85,000 in 2017, each year bringing far fewer details than 2018.

As Zelazo explains it, the city was hoping a “short-term investment” would lead to “a long-term gain.” Ultimately, despite all the talk about the PawSox owners being millionaires, the baseball venture itself “is a pretty small business when you come right down to it,” he said. For Pawtucket, $100,000 represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the budget, where for a $10 million operation such as the PawSox, it represents about 1 percent.

Council members last week questioned fiscal adviser Alan Tavares about the special revenue account the detail work was paid from. He said the money likely came from fees paid by entities for police details. This is not money found in the regular city budget, he said, and it not part of the police overtime budget.

Councilor Terry Mercer asked about how a pot of money can exist with $113,000 or more in it, and Tavares said the account, along with others such as an animal shelter account and D.A.R.E. account, are listed independently each year. He said he believes the police detail account has always had a positive balance.

Grebien released a statement this week.

“Keeping the PawSox was one of the city’s highest priorities. As we were fighting to keep the team here in Pawtucket, where they belong, we were competing with one of the richest public subsidies in modern history offered by Worcester and Massachusetts,” he said. “As mayor, I firmly believe it was incumbent upon me at the time to partner with the team and do everything we could to keep them here in Rhode Island.”

For decades, said Grebien, the city has waived some of the cost of details for games at McCoy, a city-owned venue.

“These agreements were never written. With the near three-year saga to keep the PawSox and the numerous lengthy public processes that the team and the city had to endure, some costs needed to be addressed,” he said. “The city waived roughly $100,000 in additional detail cost in partnership with the Pawtucket Red Sox. These details protect public safety and ensure smooth traffic flow.”

The city made the agreement in partnership with the team and honored that commitment, said Grebien.

“We are not going to renege on a commitment simply because it didn’t go our way,” he said. “This partnership had no budgetary impact. In fact, detail costs are paid from a special revenue fund, not tax dollars.”

Zelazo said the city has historically waived the first 40 to 50 police details for the team. That is done during the time of the year when the stadium is taking in less money. Details for large-scale fireworks displays have often been picked up by the city.

When last year’s legislative hearings were happening, he said, there were a lot of cost drivers for the team beyond the typical stadium opening and the decision was ultimately made to cover the detail costs.

“We made that offer in good faith,” he said, “very much hoping the team was going to remain in Pawtucket,” but officials are not going to renege on the commitment now “just because things didn’t go our way.” At the end of the day, asking for the money back would send the wrong message and no other entities would trust the city going forward, he said.

The council last week also asked for information on whether the School Department has to pay for its police details. Zelazo said that question will require a more complex answer. At a school at any given time will be crossing guards, a school resource officer, or maybe even a district officer stopping in, he said. It’s likely that the schools pay any detail fees beyond those.

When an entity hires a police detail for an event, they pay both the dollars to cover the salary of an officer and an administrative fee, said Zelazo, so the account is always taking in more than is going out in costs.

Comments

That's good for starters...lol. Like anyone is buying the idea that $114K give away would have had any impact whatsoever on the success of a stadium proposal worth $70-80 million. This group never ceases to amaze me with what they ask the taxpayers to believe.