TOM WARD - Woonsocket's fine people face a long, hot summer

TOM WARD - Woonsocket's fine people face a long, hot summer

The good people of Woonsocket, many of whom I grew up with and admire, deserve better. Still, it's going to be a challenging summer as new tax bills - and one extra one - arrive in the mail, and the Diamond Hill Road shopping district empties out its stores.

Last week, Shaw's Supermarket accelerated the parade that began with Walmart, Staples and Lowe's. Now, fairly or not, Sears and Burlington Coat are on death watch while hometown merchants have to work even harder to attract customers to their less trafficked plazas.

In a sad bit of irony, it was only about three years ago that President Obama's stimulus spending brought beautiful new state-of-the-art sidewalks to the area. Soon, Mendon Road at Diamond Hill - the "Vermette's" corner - will be widened to allow an easier flow of traffic to the emptying plazas, about 30 years too late.

A state mandated Budget Commission (on which my brother, City Council President John Ward serves), has been working to steady the ship. The city has received, according to Mayor Leo Fontaine, no help at all from the state. No further aid; no relief from state mandates. One of the oft-repeated contentions is that the state's ignoring of the city today is payback for the 10 years of crowing about "no tax increases" by former Mayor Susan Menard while state aid gushed in. It worked well for awhile.

Now, residents are playing catch-up. State legislators may very well have been correct in forcing the hand of Fontaine in gaining spending and health care cuts approved by the city's unionized employees. When they came, legislators approved allowing the supplemental tax bill that will arrive in the next few weeks, on top of the regular - and much larger - first quarter tax bills. Tough times indeed.

And now will come the politics and distortion. It will be a brutal fall. Fontaine will face a strong challenge from state Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, as well as environmentalist Dave Fisher, a newcomer. The political waters are about to get very muddy.

Still, though, the fine people of Woonsocket will find a way to celebrate the city's 125th Anniversary in a giant block party on Aug. 29 along its Main Street. From the beautiful Stadium Theatre to River Falls restaurant, it's going to be a great night. Even if you don't live in Woonsocket, you should mark the date and keep track of events on our website. Great people, good times. For one night, anyway, the drama will be left behind.

* Congratulations and best wishes to a new, private management company that will run the Cumberland High School pool. Marshall Muir is age 33 and a native Australian. His Muir Aquatics of Warwick will lease the pool from the school department, allowing, of course, for continued use by the school's swim team. Around that foundation, however, a full list of plans will be forthcoming that will allow for much more low-cost use of the facility by the public and swim clubs. Swimmers in nearby communities should take note of what will be coming soon. And for the town and its taxpayers, a big win in the handoff and care of a facility it could not properly manage in a cost-effective manner. Good luck, Mr. Muir!

* This week begins five years of construction on Route 95 through the heart of Providence. The state's Department of Transportation promises to create as little disruption as possible for drivers. Still, northern Rhode Islanders, if going through Providence as opposed to visiting the city, might stick to Route 295 when heading south.

* Farewell to Lincoln's iconic A.T. Cross pen. The Cross Accessory Division will be sold, according to a company press release Monday. Cross no longer owns its Lincoln headquarters. I'm not optimistic. I suppose it should come as no surprise one day after the Providence Journal, in it's "Digital Revolution" series, wondered if cursive handwriting is dead.

* And an apology to readers of this "early" edition. I wrote incorrectly last week that the CNBC business network had again ranked poor Little Rhody in last place for business. They had not. The new ranking, reported last Tuesday, has the state ranked 49th. I'm very sorry I got that wrong.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers