The Scoop: Fontaine Issues Gag Order, Impact of Fed Shutdown on RI
Friday, September 27, 2013
GoLocal has confirmed that Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine and the City’s Budget Commission have issued a gag order on the Department of Education mandating that they do not speak about the school department’s financial situation during the budget process.
"The school department is working in tandem with the city,” Woonsocket School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan told GoLocal. “The fiscal health of the city is to everyone's benefit. The school department, and the city want, from the city to the state to the federal level, to make sure the numbers are credible."
Mayor Leo Fontaine told GoLocal that the order is only in place because the budget commission and auditors must first check the school department’s finances to assure that there are no discrepancies.
“Because the budget commission has final say over all financial matters, I believe they just wanted to review anything before it goes out to ensure its accuracy and to avoid any misinformation being circulated. If you research the history over the last few years, there were instances where the former school Superintendent and business manager issued budgetary estimates indicating that they had budget surpluses only to have the auditors find significant deficits. The current effort is only ensure that any numbers released are accurate so as not to create a similar situation,” Fontaine told GoLocal.
Despite Fontaine’s assertion, his mayoral opponent and current State Representative Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has a different take on the gag order.
“The Mayor and City Council President John Ward have been laying the city’s problems solely on the school department when in reality the school department has been fiscally responsible and has run a tight ship,” added Baldelli-Hunt.
As for why Fontaine doesn’t want constituents to know that the school department has balanced it budget, Baldelli-Hunt argues that the Mayor’s municipal deficit is the primary reason.
“He looks foolish,” Baldelli-Hunt told GoLocal. “The mayor is falsely blaming the school department and doesn’t want them to disclose their finances because they have a balanced budget.”
Additionally, Baldelli-Hunt told GoLocal that Fontaine might be trying to use the education surplus to balance his municipal deficit.
Stay tuned for more information as this story continues to develop.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed took to the Senate floor on Thursday to discuss the ways in which the potential federal government shutdown could hurt the Rhode Island and national economy.
Although the bulk of Reed’s comments involved the larger impact that the shutdown would have on the U.S. economy, the Senator also outlined how it would affect Rhode Islanders.
“If Republicans force a shutdown of the government, it will have extraordinarily adverse consequences to thousands of Rhode Island workers, my constituents, and people all across this country,” said Reed. “It would hurt our economic growth. Rather than doing this, we should be working to expand our growth. We should be doing more to get people back to work.”
Reed also commented on how the pending sequestration has already impacted the state.
“We are seeing forced furloughs up in Rhode Island at the Newport Navy Base and other facilities and we are seeing the ripple effect of that. The local businesses are seeing demand go down, revenues go down. Their financial stability is being threatened. Rhode Islanders who have been laid off in private enterprises, through no fault of their own, are seeing their unemployment insurance cut by the sequester already."
"The average weekly benefit of $377 is being cut by $46. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training estimates 6,000 to 7000 Rhode Islanders are being affected, taking $1.4 million per month directly out of our economy. Our economy is at 9.1 percent unemployment. This is something that is causing pain and hardship to families throughout my State. The sequester is cutting back on the very modest benefits that they might be receiving after losing employment,” Reed said.
The federal government will shut down on October 1 if Congress doesn’t strike a budget deal.
The special legislative task panel tasked with reviewing the East Bay bridge toll held its first meeting on Thursday to discuss review the bridge toll and to examine the state’s aging infrastructure.
“This initial meeting was intended to frame the scope and structure of the commission’s mission,” Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), co-chair of the commission, told GoLocal. “We received a comprehensive presentation from our fiscal staff that was designed to give members and the public an overview of the transportation funding issue in terms of the current resources and needs so they have that foundation of information as they consider future options. This included a recap of the many efforts to study the issue in the past several years and recent initiatives undertaken as well as comments and questions from the members."
Since yesterday’s meeting was intended for organizational purposes, the commission’s next meeting will examine more specific details.
“After yesterday’s overview of the transportation issues in general, one of the next meetings will likely more specifically address the East Bay bridge issue,” Melo told GoLocal. “We look forward to hearing from the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the Department of Transportation, affected interest groups and taking public testimony. We are also planning to have an expert on this issue bring us the national perspective with a more detailed discussion on what other states are doing.”
The commission’s next meeting should take place sometime in October, according to Melo.
The Rhode Island Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence (RICAODD) has recognized Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) for her work to aid and protect those suffering from addiction.
On Thursday, the Phoenix House presented Serpa with the James H. Ottmar Award at its 44th annual Community Service Awards Luncheon. The award recognizes a respected community or business leader who is not afraid to serve as a voice for those who are unable to be heard due to alcoholism or drug addiction
“I am absolutely honored that this organization would choose me for this recognition, and I hope to continue to serve those in need in any way I can,” Serpa said. “Addiction is a struggle that not all of us have been through, but I think it’s important as a human being to acknowledge that it does exist and that some people have to fight every day of their lives in order to avoid succumbing to it. It is because of the wonderful programs at Phoenix House that people have somewhere to turn. The community is eternally grateful for the safe haven it provides.”
Serpa also had the honor of being the torchbearer at this past Saturday’s Providence Waterfire in light of the 2013 National Recovery Month, which is aimed at promoting the social benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental and substance use disorders.
U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse announced today that four Rhode Island law enforcement agencies are receiving a total of $636,207 to add five more police officers to patrols this year.
The Middletown Police Department will receive $250,000 to hire two officers; the City of Central Falls will receive $136,207 to hire one officer; Richmond Police Department will receive $125,000 to hire one officer; and the West Greenwich Police Department will receive $125,000 to hire one officer.
“I’m proud to announce this federal grant, which will help Rhode Island law-enforcement agencies hire the staff they need to keep our neighborhoods and families safe,” said, who wrote letters in support of the towns' grant applications.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, these COPS Hiring Program (CHP) grants will help put more police officers on the streets, reduce crime, and help these cities fill budget gaps
This year’s CHP grants provide 75 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly-hired, full-time sworn officer positions (including filling existing unfunded vacancies) or for rehired officers who have been laid off, or are scheduled to be laid off on a future date, as a result of local budget cuts.
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