RANT: Cue eye roll, please. Reading the Patch article on Governor Chaffee’s decision to cut back on the state reimbursement to East Greenwich by 5 percent, your conclusion might be that we are in a big financial doo doo. One word: Perspective. Or a better word: Woonsocket. Actually, why budget myself? Let’s add Providence, Central Falls and Cranston to the mix. Do I wish that governments wouldn’t renege on its promises? Of course. But I also wish for world peace, a cell phone service that doesn't cut out on Tillinghast and a really good Indian restaurant to come back to Main Street, but I’m not holding my breath for any of those to come true either.
Obviously, we will feel the state’s belt tightening in our own town’s budget. But, let’s compare these apples and oranges for a moment.... East Greenwich High School has a shiny new library. The public libraries are struggling to stay open in Central Falls and literally required a Hollywood-type last minute rescue with money coming from Viola Davis ($1,000) and Alex Baldwin ($10,000). Meryl Streep also put her two cents — or rather, $10,000 in — to local charter school the Segue Institute for Learning, which was also facing closure.
East Greenwich just built a brand new middle school. Woonsocket actually considered closing all of its school as a way to make up its $10 MILLION DOLLAR deficit (they decided not to, but the fact that it was even on the table is enough to keep parents in that town up nights).
East Greenwich just approved $20,000 to STUDY the feasibility of moving the fire department. In Cranston, Mayor Allan W. Fung said that unless things changed, he would have to eliminate trash collection, services to the elderly and recreation programs for children, as well as reduce the size of the police force and fire department to minimize their budget black hole while Coventry has a total unfunded pension liability of $62 million currently.
In East Greenwich, there may be one too many empty storefronts on Main Street, but the town is still working. In Providence, the lights are about to go out. Receivership is looming as the government tries to close the $22.5 million operating deficit.
So sure, we have what seems to be the never-ending problem with the school playing fields and there are a few kinks in the plumbing system at Cole (but the cost will not come out of the town’s pocket) and that sudden $1.6 million debt seems like a kick in the teeth, but in the general Rhode Island schemes of things, our zip code is actually doing okay.
To gild the lily, here are some more sobering facts: According to Moody’s credit rating agency, "Local governments in Rhode Island are experiencing economic weakness, revenue stagnation and pension expense growth that are more acute than in most other states and are likely to persist into the future. We expect few if any rating upgrades and a continuing trend of downgrade activity in the coming year." Bottom line, rather than Newport mansions and Narragansett chic, our state is a place where the roads and bridges rank among the worst in the nation and where jobs are particularly hard to find. Unemployment rose faster here during the 2009-11 recession than in any other state. Is our town’s financial stability a perfect storm of a fiscally-prudent town and school council (rare as sighting of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker), a wealthy town base and an economy that is slowly returning?
I am sure smarter people than me have an opinion on that — and hopefully will air them in the comment section.
All I know is, as much as I want to rant about Chafee’s decision, I can’t.
RAVE: In true Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney style, the Odeum Board pulled out the stops and are almost ready to put on a show. Who woulda thunk it? A year ago, it looked like a downtown theater was thing of the past. The Ocean State Theatre Co. decided to locate elsewhere. The Academy Players moved on. The Town Council felt that we had to have more than pipe dreams and a desire to make it on Broadway before putting money into the theatre. But the Odeum Board became The Little Engine that Could. They got a Champlin Foundations grant, fired up their fundraising, listened to complaints about accessibility and organization and got serious about play acting. These small-town theaters used to be the life blood of a town’s Main Street. It’s no coincidence that as downtown arts centers and cinemas moved to the outskirts of cities in America, the downtowns began to deteriorate. While our Main Street has managed to hold its head above water, we still lost an important destination place when the Odeum closed. So huge applause — Odeum Board, be prepared to take a bow!