The Town Council heard from its relatively new ad hoc finance committee Monday night — and they got an earful.
In particular, they heard about different departments — representing the town, the school department and the fire district — that in the panel's opinion did not communicate with each other, duplicated services, and seemed openly hostile.
Finance committee member Henry Kates read a prepared statement that described how the town’s Public Works Department and the school department’s Facilities director are housed in the same building but typically work in isolation to maintain what, in the end, are all town-owned facilities.
He also spoke about the dispatch room at the police station which was built to accommodate both police and fire dispatch. The Fire District, however, is a separate entity. It recently contracted with the Warwick Fire Department to handle its dispatch.
According to Kates, “We have a culture in East Greenwich which not only encourages public employees and department heads to work in silos, but foments discord, acrimony and distrust.”
The three-person Finance Committee is made up of Kates, Judy Assad, and Tom Stocker. Kates and Stocker have experience serving on a similar panel for the School Committee.
They suggested several areas “ripe for school and town collaboration.” The Fire District is a separate entity all together, so while they suggest collaboration with the Fire District, that would have be broached separately.
One idea from the panel is sharing personnel between the town and the schools and coordinating the DPW and the school facilities department.
Another idea was better coordination of insurance costs. In particular, they recommend the town and schools join forces to bid on insurance, and they supported joint property and casualty coverage.
Stocker did note, however, that the town and the council had done a good job in paring down costs. "The low-hanging fruit is gone," he said. He also said department heads and Town Manager Bill Sequino had been very helpful is explaining their budgets.
Councilor Mark Gee thanked the panel for its work and suggested that their ideas could be added to the Town Council's goals. Council President Michael Isaacs also expressed his thanks for the panel's work.
Councilor Jeff Cianciolo said he agreed with a suggestion from the committee, that the town consider hiring a facilitator to improve working relationships.
"I think we would be derelict in our duty if we just ignored what he said," said Cianciolo.
With the town's budget nearing completion (it could come out this week), council members told Finance Committee members they looked forward to their help in the coming weeks and months.