Metro

Taveras forecasts city’s economic recovery

The mayor stresses the importance of fiscal responsibility as the city attempts to rebuild

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mayor Angel Taveras outlined Providence’s past fiscal struggles and indicated the beginning of an economic recovery at the annual State of the City address Tuesday night at City Hall.

Providence faced a $110 million structural deficit when Taveras assumed office in 2011. He embarked on a campaign to reduce the deficit last year and urged the city’s non-profit institutions — such as the University and the city’s healthcare providers — to increase voluntary payments in lieu of property taxes.  In 2012, Providence reduced its deficit from $22 million to the current $4 million.

“We expect to end this year with a balanced budget,” Taveras said.

Taveras partially attributed last year’s $18 million in cuts to the city’s pension reform agreement with retirees. The reform froze cost-of-living adjustments, placed a cap on pensions and put retirees over the age of 65 on Medicare — all efforts to make pension plans more sustainable for the city, he said. Taveras thanked the workers affected for the sacrifices they have made for the city.

He also thanked tax-exempt institutions for pledging to increase their contributions to the city by $48 million over the next 11 years, $31.5 million of which the University pledged to the city last May.

“Providence is recovering,” Taveras said several times throughout his speech, a statement that received vigorous applause from the crowd. He cited examples of recent development and recovery throughout the city, including construction projects at Johnson and Wales University, new retail spaces at the Biltmore Garage and the opening of small businesses in many neighborhoods.

Despite his hopeful outlook for the city’s economy, Taveras stressed that “Providence’s reserve funds have been depleted, and we must manage our city’s finances responsibly and transparently.” He added that the city must “work to replenish (its) reserves and restore (its) credit ratings in the coming months and years.”

Taveras’ address also emphasized sustainability measures. He said the city’s recycling initiative — launched last fall — has boosted the recycling rate, which rose from 15 to 25 percent since the program began, and is expected to save the city $250,000 this year. The initiative is accompanied by plans to turn some of the city’s empty lots into urban gardens, organize a volunteer cleanup of Providence in April and implement “a citywide biking plan and a pilot plan for composting,” he said.

To increase public safety, Providence plans to hire up to 18 additional police officers and 50 firefighters, Taveras said.

He added that he is “committed to passing reasonable, common-sense gun control legislation this year that puts Rhode Island in line with our neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.”

“We expect to face challenges in the months ahead,” Taveras said, “but every day, I am reminded that Providence is truly the beating heart of our state.”