Would the smallest state in the union be better off doing away with some of its even smaller municipal borders? One state senator thinks it would.
Frank Ciccone III, D-Dist. 7, plans to introduce a bill in January to consolidate Rhode Island's 39 self-governing cities and towns into just four or five counties in response to the state's mounting fiscal problems, he announced last month.
The state is currently geographically divided into Providence, Washington, Bristol, Kent and Newport counties, although there is no government currently in place at the county level. Under Ciccone's plan, only four of those counties might be recognized.
"It's about the geographical potential of going back to a county-type system," he said in an interview last week. The proposal would help generate "significant cost savings" by regionalizing all municipal services, including education, public safety and public works, he said.
The consolidation would save resources by cutting down bureaucracy, Ciccone said. The bill alsomakes provisions for a full-time legislature to govern each county.
"This proposal is not very political because it is eliminating the individual identities of mayors and town managers," Ciccone said.
Though still in its preliminary stages, the proposal raised doubts with at least one town manager.
"At this time I have not seen anything the state has done in the best interest of the taxpayers or the communities," Glocester Town Council President Kevin Walsh wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "So I would not support any proposed legislation without knowing the financial ramifications to the Town of Glocester."
Ciccone said unions representing municipal workers are likely to oppose the proposal because it may decrease employment. He is still in the process of putting the bill together and has been discussing it with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte, D-Dist. 14 and Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors, D-Dist. 19, he said, as well as collecting public comments.
"We can no longer exist the way we are existing," Ciccone said. "We need to eliminate bureaucracy and plan for the future in order to take Rhode Island from the bottom to the middle or the top."
Mayor of Providence David Cicilline '83 has also drafted a proposal to merge municipal services in seven metropolitan areas in the state to deliver them in a more cost-efficient way, Cicilline said.