Metro, News

Mayor Elorza overviews policy platform at community meeting

Community members raise questions, concerns with Providence mayor during meeting

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2017

Mayor Jorge Elorza announced that the city of Providence ran a budget surplus in 2016, ending years of deficit spending. 2016 was also the first year in the city’s history without a gang-related homicide.

In this month’s community-wide conversation Wednesday between Mayor Jorge Elorza and Providence residents, the mayor reiterated his administration’s four priorities: budget, infrastructure, education and accessible public officials.

After taking office three years ago, Elorza started his “City Wide Conversations” series to engage with Providence community members. This month’s conversation took place in Elmhurst at Mount Pleasant High School with the participation of Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan.

The Mayor’s Office re-affirmed its commitment to budget-conscious policy making, Elorza said, noting the city budget’s $10 million surplus. This brings Providence out of its deficit, which the city was in for years before it ran a surplus in 2016, Elorza said. Running a surplus makes Providence a more attractive site for investment going forward, Elorza said.

The second priority for the city is long-term planning and infrastructure, Elorza said. He said that decades of disinvestment in infrastructure is evident in the streets of the city: “We have many roads that haven’t been paved for 60 years.” Working with the city council, the city will invest $45 million in the coming year to fix roads, bridges and sidewalks.

Elorza also noted that in the past year, City Hall increased investment in education for the first time in nearly seven years, bolstering city summer camps and creating summer learning centers, he said. At one city-sponsored summer camp, participants paid just $5 per child for a week of camp, he said. The program is meant to support parents who can’t afford day-care for their children during the summer.

Providence also plans to invest up to $400 million in its schools in the span of 10 years. The Mayor’s Office has also launched include an Office of Economic Opportunity, which recruits Providence students who want to take an alternative path from college and connects them with area businesses.

The city also invested in summer jobs: this year, the amount of available summer work doubled, he said. “I have always believed that number one crime fighting tool we have in the city of Providence is making sure that we have healthy and safe activities for young people throughout the year,” Elorza said.

Crime dramatically decreased in the city, Elorza added. He said that 2016 marked the first year in city’s history without gang-related homicide.

Elorza also said he aims to make city officials more accessible to the public. Elorza launched a 311 system, which is meant to ease the process of reaching out to the Mayor’s Office specifically. Beyond the Mayor’s Office, Elorza has made sure each city department undergoes training in providing assistance to citizens.

After the speech, community members asked questions or made comments to the mayor.

One resident requested more street sweeping in Providence. Elorza said Providence increased street sweeping from twice to four times a year in recent years. Additionally, the city purchased new equipment and gave street sweepers new trainings, Elorza said.

Another community member asked where Providence planned to get the $45 million it hopes to invest in infrastructure. Elorza said the $45 million will come from municipal bonds, and promised that overall debt will stay stable.

One resident raised concerns that Providence schools’ lack of staff diversity gives students sub-par educational experiences — when language gaps exist between teachers and students, for example, English language learners lose out, he said.

Elorza responded that his administration has made some efforts to integrate refugee children who do not know English into Providence schools. Elorza created a separate school called Welcoming Center School where refugees are educated until they are ready to transition to a traditional school, Elorza said.