Reasons for optimism? Mayor's address outlines goals, progress in first 100 days

Reasons for optimism? Mayor's address outlines goals, progress in first 100 days

WOONSOCKET - On the day of her inauguration, Dec. 3, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt admitted it would take time to understand the full extent of Woonsocket's dire fiscal situation, and to develop a plan to put a city beaten down by tax hikes, cuts to services and a declining quality of life back on the track to prosperity.

But on March 13, exactly 100 days after taking office, she announced her progress before a packed house at City Hall.

"While we have not solved all of the city's problems in 100 days, we have made a strong and effective beginning," Baldelli-Hunt said.

Claiming a reinvigorated and reorganized City Hall staff and achievements made in every municipal department, the mayor gave residents a few promising, although sometimes vague, reasons to look forward with at least a hint of optimism.

"I have had dozens of conversations with prospective businesses looking to expand or relocate to our city," Baldelli-Hunt said.

"I have several promising projects are underway and I will announce the details as these plans are developed and finalized."

The mayor cited a myriad of other projects and accomplishments that she said are at or nearing completion.

* The Budget Commission, a state-appointed group with authority over city finances, is well on its way toward departure, she said.

* Her administrative team, from treasury and human resources to emergency management, is now fully staffed and has taken the reins, she said.

* The mayor recently signed a $20 million bond issue with low interest rates to finally restart the process of relocating the city's water treatment plant.

* A plan to implement full-day kindergarten that she says will require no local tax funding, not result in crowding of the middle school and provide for teacher's assistants is in its final stage of development and will be presented soon.

* The city is poised to begin the process of consolidating police and fire dispatch services and has negotiated an agreement with unions to allow outside staffing. The change, she said, will save the city more than $630,000 per year.

* Officials are working toward the merger of the financial management of city and school department.

* A renewed emphasis on the importance of grants has brought in new resources, including $5,000 from the Department of Transportation, around $30,000 from the state Department of Homeland Security, two new Hummer vehicles for the police department, $1,500 from the Rotary Club and $200,000 from CVS for emergency management to be used to purchase digital repeaters.

"Significant progress is being made," Baldelli-Hunt said, as the list continued, pointing to newly brightened streetlights, blight reduction achieved by targeting the "Dirty Thirty," improvements at the city's animal shelter, plans to replace outdated city equipment, and a project for repaving Mill and Privilege streets.

The mayor also named her administration's goals, while emphasizing one obstacle to progress she has often cited: "neglect" by previous city management.

Her team, she said, "was not given the courtesy of an orderly transition."

In the Legal Department, "when we arrived here at City Hall, there was no current set of Rhode Island General Laws. There was no access to online resource tools." The department, she said, also had no list of ongoing arbitration proceedings or city litigation, no coordination with outside legal counsel and was facing excessive expense for outside counsel.

The mayor hired a full-time solicitor and circumstances there, and elsewhere at City Hall, she said, have begun to change.

"One hundred days later, the awesome responsibility of identifying the problems and making the changes needed to resolve those problems has fallen on me, and I have eagerly accepted that challenge," Baldelli-Hunt said.

The mayor said her goals are to improve allocation of the city's limited resources; reduce taxes that have been established in the five year plan; eliminate the Budget Commission; improve access to capital; work together with all departments cohesively as one city; restore financial stability; and improve the city's bond rating.

"Sacrifice will be required of everyone, but a shared commitment by everyone to save our city is the most important priority," she said.

Comments

It sounds like the state of the city was far worse than anyone could imagine. The previous administration had the run of mill with no independent oversight. Woonsocket residents need to learn from history. Rather than complain and criticize, it maybe best to demand accountability. The mayor has stated a few projects in the works that need regular updates to the constituents. Another meeting at the 200 day point would not be unreasonable. The objective of this meeting would be to present updates, good or bad, of the earlier stated projects and any new projects. A short public comment segment should be included.

No "sacrifice" from insured bondholders getting paid 100 cents on the dollar plus tax-free interest. Another 20 million in debt piled on. The honeymoon will be over in July when she gets zilch from the GA at the end of their session and taxpayers get hit with supplemental number two.