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Mayors and town managers voted today to affirm the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns position against the General Assembly’s proposal (H5662 and H5663) to limit the management rights of cities and towns and allow the state to interfere in local governance decisions. While Mayors and Town Managers may differ on what staffing and scheduling approaches are appropriate for their own communities, they expressed their united commitment to local decision-making and their ability to protect local taxpayers.
“The House is trying to fast track a bill that will overstep local officials, the contract negotiating process, and immediately place that cost burden on taxpayers,” said Brian Daniels, Executive Director of the League in a press release. “It was clear from the start that they had no intention of looking at the cost of this proposal or understanding the impact. This sends the wrong message that business as usual in Rhode Island continues. When special interest groups don’t want to negotiate in good faith, they can come running to the General Assembly, no matter what the cost to taxpayers.”
The Tax Foundation ranks Rhode Island as having the sixth highest property tax burden in the country. Key to controlling costs is managing personnel, which is the largest component of municipal budgets; as much as 75% of local spending is for employee wages, health care and retiree benefits.
Rhode Island also had the highest per capita spending on fire protection services in fiscal year 2016 — more than double the national average, according to the R.I. Public Expenditure Council. Even when accounting for fire and rescue costs, Rhode Island ranks amongst the highest for costs.
“Unfortunately, state laws currently limit the ability of mayors and town managers to negotiate good deals for the taxpayer, and bills in the General Assembly would make the problem even worse,” added Daniels. “If legislators force higher personnel costs on cities and towns, the only alternatives are property tax increases or deep cuts to important services.”
H5662 would require firefighters to receive overtime pay for any hours worked over 42 in a workweek. However, the bill does not recognize that firefighters work special schedules, sometimes working one long shift and then having multiple days off. The legislation, intended to limit local officials’ ability to modify platoon structures in a way that meets the community’s needs, will result in higher costs to cities and towns taxpayers. H5663 would remove the state overtime exemption for firefighters and rescue personnel.
Under federal standards, because of their complex schedules, firefighters are not required to receive overtime unless they have worked more than 53 hours in an average week. With the highest fire protections costs in the nation, Rhode Island should not be setting a lower threshold for overtime than required under federal law.
The following Members of the League of Cities and Towns were present during today’s meeting and vote:
- James A. Diossa, Mayor, Central Falls and League President
- Lisa Baldelli-Hunt Mayor, Woonsocket
- Steven Contente, Town Administrator, Bristol
- James J. Cunha, Town Manager, Barrington
- Robert DaSilva, Mayor, East Providence
- Jorge O. Elorza, Mayor, Providence
- Allan Fung, Mayor, Cranston
- Gary S. Ezovski, Town Administrator, North Smithfield
- Kate Michaud, Town Manager, Warren
- A. Ralph Mollis, Town Manager, North Kingstown
- Robert L. Mushen, Council President, Little Compton
- Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Council Member, Newport
- Andrew Nota, Town Administrator, Jamestown
- Randy R. Rossi, Town Manager, Smithfield
- Joseph Solomon, Mayor, Warwick
- Mark S. Stankiewicz, Town Administrator, Charlestown
- Michael C. Wood, Town Manager, Burrillville
Founded in 1968, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns is a municipal membership organization that serves as the unified voice of local government in Rhode Island.