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Providence Budget Woes: Public Safety Chaos

Friday, July 26, 2013


Mayor Angel Taveras - struggles to balance budgets

The City of Providence fiscal year 2014 budget approved by the City Council in June is already facing millions in projection shortfalls, according to a City Council member, as well as the City's Internal Auditor. Despite the residential tax increase which has just gone into effect and has infuriated taxpayers, Providence is already in the midst of yet another fiscal mess.

While the $663 million budget contained spending increases for both the police and fire departments -- 9% and 7% respectively -- the number of Providence police is currently at record lows, and according to one member of the police department, police are now being asked to respond to dispatch calls intended for rescue trucks that the fire department historically handled.

Despite the short staffing, the police department is being dispatched to handle rescue calls, and Roger Aspinall, a Police Officer with the Providence Police Department is concerned with the implications.

"The city is going to open itself up to liability with this," said Aspinall. "We've got a duty to render aid, but we're not EMTs. We're running at a bare minimum. I'm sure this decision is a budget issue, but I'm not privy to those numbers."

Police understaffed

Public Safety Concerns

Aspinall, who works in the Department's Narcotics Division, said he became aware of the issue recently when he was assisting officers on patrol.

"We got a call one night to check on a gentleman who was behaving strangely at 555 Veazie Street, which is senior housing," said Aspinall. "I asked, 'Why is a patrolman going up there?' This guy could be having a stroke, overdosing on [medication]... the patrolman's not qualified, he's not an EMT."

"So I asked the dispatcher, who checked with fire, and per the [fire] lieutenant, that was the directive -- send police out first to check on the situation."

"We're already running at a bare minimum, and this is taking patrolmen off the street," said Aspinall. "Whether this has to do with other surrounding towns having backed out of mutual aid, I don't know," referring to the practice in which adjoining municipal fire and rescue teams could come to the aid of neighboring area needs.

Last year, GoLocal reported that the number of Providence police was at an all-time low, and recently, that State Police were assisting the city following the murder of 12 year old Aynis Vargis.

"We''ve got a duty to render aid, but we'e got to protect our guys and our liability," said Aspinall. "We're not rescue. Sometimes, time is of the essence -- if you just send us out to assess the situation, there's precious time being wasted if we then have to contact rescue to come."

"What I see is that the city had to find a way to handle the budget numbers, and they decided to cut down on rescue runs," claimed Aspinall.

Providence faces another budget problem - just 1 month into the new fiscal year

City Facing Potential Multi-Million Dollar Shortfall Already

The City of Providence has so far faced several setbacks on its revenue estimations for the coming year, including a shortfall of $1.5 million from the $5 million the city had asked the General Assembly to consider in aid during the session.

"The city won't really know until early September what the [fiscal] situation looks like, " said Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte. "However, there a were few budget assumptions made during the [General Assembly] session that didn't turn out as planned, so it appears we're already several million below where the city thought we would be."

"The city had factored in money from the [Representative] Lisa Baldelli-Hunt bill," said Aponte, referring to legislation which would have raised taxes on low-income housing, which was ultimately vetoed by Governor Chafee.

Matt Clarkin, Internal Editor with the City of Providence, said that he was waiting for data to confirm the amount, but had told that number was between $1 million and $1.2 million.

In addition, the city recently restored some partial tax housing exemptions for the blind and elderly, among others, for approximately $660,000, Clarkin confirmed.

"We are only a few weeks in," said Clarkin. "It's too early to make projections on certain items. But some of the items ... aren't based on timing."


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