Bryant retains 'objective, third party' in wrangle with town over dollars

Bryant retains 'objective, third party' in wrangle with town over dollars

SMITHFIELD - Unable to persuade municipal officials to seek outside expertise in determining how much it costs to send public safety vehicles to the campus, Bryant University has itself hired a financial consultant, Boston-based Charles River Associates.

Bryant has been pressing the Town Council to hire a consultant at the university's expense, but the council has been locked into a 3-2 margin against such a move, with a majority saying they are satisfied with figures supplied by department heads.

The university and the town are soon to begin negotiations that the council hopes will produce an agreement under which tax-exempt Bryant will begin paying for public safety runs, but determining what they cost has been an issue.

The town has asked Bryant to enter into a 20-year agreement under which it would pay $300,000 a year for the services, plus $150,000 every four years for the purchase of police and fire department equipment in addition to funding a number of scholarships for local residents.

Bryant has questioned how the town arrived at those figures, and in an ad in last week's Valley Breeze & Observer said its consultant is nationally recognized and will get the two sides "Moving forward to reach a fair agreement."

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation that will allow the town to bill Bryant for the actual costs involved, unless the two sides reach some other agreement by next April.

Despite the council majority against hiring a consultant, Town Manager Dennis Finlay said he and the council are aware of Bryant's arrangement with Charles River Associates and that it is not expected to negatively affect the atmosphere of talks.

The council recently named Finlay the "point person" for getting negotiations underway.

According to Elizabeth O'Neil, Bryant's executive director for university relations and one of its negotiators, the university hired the consulting firm because the presence of "an objective third party was crucial to getting started."

Charles River Associates describes itself as "a leading global consulting firm that offers economic, financial, and business management expertise to major law firms, corporations, accounting firms and governments around the world."

Bryant continues to insist that it is a major financial factor in town, generating more than $17 million a year for the local economy, and that it already contributes more than $300,000 worth of voluntary services, but just as it questions the town's cost figures, local officials have said that some of Bryant's financial assertions are open to question.

According to the Town Council, the negotiations - which have not yet been scheduled - will be open to the public.