At tonight’s City Council meeting, Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) and John Goncalves (Ward 1) proposed a resolution calling for a review of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s license agreement with the charter school Achievement First, which grants the charter school use of space in a City-owned elementary school. The resolution describes how the execution of license agreement did not follow the required public process outlined in Section 416 (6) of the City Charter which requires a resolution of the City Council to enter into a lease of a City building. This resolution was passed by the full council.
“With the current state of Providence’s school system, City leaders should all be working together to ensure that major decisions such as this license agreement are carefully considered and deliberated. It is customary for the City Council to review any lease of City property, and it is in the best interest of Mayor Elorza, Achievement First and all Providence students for the Council to take the time to properly vet this agreement,” stated Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2).
According to the City Charter, any lease of City owned property must be authorized by the City Council. Mayor Elorza entered into a license agreement wherein Achievement First will rent a portion of the property located at the Charles M. Fortes Elementary school for the purpose of operating a charter school at this location beginning in September. The City Council was not given the opportunity to review or approve this agreement prior to it being finalized.
“The City Council is the legislative body of the City of Providence. We are here to provide an open, democratic process for the City’s development and initiatives. It is disappointing that the mayoral administration did not initially reach out for Council input on a plan which involves the lease of valuable public property. We are calling on the administration to comply with the City Charter and allow for due process,” added Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1).
In March of 2015, the City Council reviewed a similar situation, in which The International Charter School was being considered to lease the Windmill Street School building. This request was communicated by the City’s Director of Public Property to the City Council. The Council’s Committee on City Property reviewed the request and reported back to the full Council, which voted to against the lease agreement.
“Moving forward, communication and transparency between our City’s governing bodies should be a priority. As a City Council, we cannot fulfill our duties if we cannot work collaboratively with the Mayor and other City departments. While charter schools remain a contentious issue in our city, this is also a matter of principle and good government. We are committed to adhering to the requirements set forth by the city charter, which provides the foundation of our city government,” added Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune.
Approved budget contains no tax increases and uses $42 million in stimulus funds for small business relief, youth investments, free public Internet access, and more.
Tonight, the Providence City Council voted to approve a $539 million FY 2022 City Budget including $42 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to address both immediate needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic and longer-term investments that will pay dividends for years to come. The budget holds the line on residential and commercial property taxes, while funding key City services that residents expect and deserve.
Tonight’s vote to approve the FY 2022 City budget follows 5 weeks and more than 11 Finance Committee hearings to receive input from the Mayor’s office, Council members, and city residents and community organizations.
“I want to thank my colleagues on the City Council and Mayor Elorza for working collaboratively to put together and pass this budget that invests in our city at a time of great challenge for our residents,” said City Council President John J. Igliozzi. “Developing this budget during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. Through months of hearings, we have heard just how hard hit our families, small businesses, and community organizations have been by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. To address these needs, I am pleased that we are able to utilize $42 million in ARPA funds to invest in summer programming for our youth, early learning programs, free public internet access at parks and recreation centers, anti-violence programs, homeless interventions, street sweeping and sewer repairs, our public libraries, and relief for our small businesses. In addition, this budget continues to invest in core City services including inspections and public safety, while holding the line on taxes.”
Continued Igiozzi, “I also want to highlight this budget’s investment in public safety, which will provide the staffing and resources necessary to respond to criminal activity and to keep the people of our city safe. Talking with residents, many have said they are worried about a rise in crime and support smart investments in our police department, as well as substantive reforms to address community concerns about some policing practices. That is why this budget includes funding for recruitment of new police officers to protect our neighborhoods, and also creates a new Community Relations and Diversion Services Major position within the police department to resolve public safety issues that would be better dealt with through outreach and partnerships with City agencies and community-based organizations.”
“During this time of great need, I am pleased that my colleagues on the City Council and Mayor Elorza have worked together to pass a budget that helps our residents, small businesses, and community organizations get through the COVID-19 pandemic, while making long term investments in our city,” said Councilwoman and Finance Chair Jo-Ann Ryan. “I am particularly pleased that this budget provides $7 million in direct relief for Providence’s small businesses, invests in early education for our youth, and invests in basic City services like public safety and housing and building safety inspections to address quality of life issues.”
FY 2022 City budget highlights include:
•No property tax increases.
•Invests in the Department of Inspections and Standards to deal with quality-of-life issues.
•Invests in the Department of Public Property to hire additional personnel to handle projects in a more efficient and timely fashion.
•Creates a new Department of Equity and Inclusion.
•Invests in public safety, including expansion of diversion efforts, creating anti-violence programs, and provisions to fund recruitment of new Providence Police officers.
•Continues to invest in City parks with a portion of Tax Stabilization revenue going to the Parks and Recreation fund.
•Provides an additional $300,000 for Providence Community Centers for programs that qualify for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) resources.
•Creates a new Community Relations and Diversion Services Major position within the Providence Police Department.
•10% of tax revenue from projects with a Tax Stabilization Agreement (TSA) will be dedicated to supporting debt service on the $25M Providence Redevelopment Agency Special Obligation Bond that funded the Providence Housing Trust in FY21.
•Invests $350,000 to expand the number of pre-kindergarten classrooms in Providence, increasing access to quality early learning programs.
•Invests ARPA funds for night basketball, recreational center programs for our youths, free internet access at our largest parks and recreation centers, sewer repair fund, and a $7 million small business relief fund.
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Council Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris which calls for action on the growing homelessness crisis and adjacent affordable housing crisis in Providence.
“The homelessness crisis in our city needs to be immediately addressed. Providence’s homeless residents deserve a rapid expansion in temporary shelter space in the city, so that there are places where people can go to have safe and dignified living conditions until they are able to find permanent affordable housing. We have the resources to provide safe and reliable temporary housing, and there is no excuse for delay,” stated Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11).
The Council resolution calls on the Mayor to work with state and local partners to find the necessary funding to quickly expand the amount of temporary shelter space and affordable housing opportunities that are available to individuals suffering from homelessness in the city.
“Homelessness results from a combination of factors, but the lack of affordable housing options, made even more challenging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—has deepened the problem. I have been working to address affordable housing and homelessness on the Council and in my community for years. We must continue our efforts to expand opportunities for affordable housing in Providence as a long-term solution to homelessness,” added Councilwoman Harris.
Earlier this year, the Council capitalized the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with over $20 million to help finance, construct, and maintain affordable housing units throughout the city. Tonight’s resolution reaffirms the Council’s commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis in the city which the resolution cites exacerbating the prevalence of homelessness in our communities.
Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) who led the effort to grow the Housing Trust Fund through the bond issue, said that, “The City needs a plan to address the immediate homelessness crisis, while investing thoughtfully in long-term affordable housing solutions. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been a priority of mine, and I look forward to using it to provide housing security for Providence residents.”
On Thursday, May 20th, the City Council voted to give final passage of the Tax Stabilization Investment Act. The ordinance now goes to the Mayor to be signed into law.
The Tax Stabilization Investment Act reforms the City’s Tax Stabilization Agreement (TSA) process by standardizing the tax stabilization benefit for all businesses who wish to take advantage of the development incentive. Key points of the legislation include:
Establishing standard tax stabilization periods based on the size and scope of the project, ranging from five-year stabilizations for $3million and under projects to twenty-year stabilizations for projects over $50million.
Streamlining and clarifying the citywide review and vetting process through applicable City departments including Inspections and Standards, Public Works, Planning and Development, the Tax Collector, Licensing, and the City Solicitor prior to review by the City Council.
Specifying area standard wages for construction workers on projects over $10 million.
Creating a commitment to ensure that post-construction jobs earn a wage twice the United States Department of Health and Human Services Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of three divided into an hourly wage at forty hours/week, fifty-two weeks/year on projects over $10 million.
Ensuring that the full taxes on the property become due should the property be transferred to a tax-exempt entity.
Specifying a “clawback” procedure that allows for the Council and the City to reconsider an existing agreement in cases of non-compliance.
Additionally, the ordinance maintains current TSA standards on minority- and women-owned business enterprises, First Source hiring, obligations to the Affordable Housing Trust, payments to the City of Providence Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and apprenticeship utilization.
“With the passage of this Act, the City is making an investment in neighborhood residents when we support development via tax stabilizations. For too long, high-level publicly subsidized development, while increasing the tax base, has not resulted in opportunities for city residents to gain meaningful employment that has the capacity to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. This Act ensures everyone can share in the opportunities in our city,” said Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13), a co-sponsor of the legislation who led the reforms effort.
“The TSA program has resulted in millions of dollars of investment in downtown Providence. A recent report to the Finance Committee projected that the city’s current tax stabilized properties will generate an additional $454 million in revenue over the next two decades. The TSA Investment Act is an evolution of this economic development tool that continues to incentivize major projects downtown and throughout the city, creating jobs, and ultimately increasing our tax base. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the City Council who have the foresight to adapt our approach to supporting growth in Providence,” stated Council President John J. Igliozzi.
“The Act levels the playing field for businesses who follow the law, treat their employees fairly, and want to invest in the future in partnership with the City. Additionally, the ordinance creates crystal clear procedures for developers of any size to know exactly what to expect when they seek support from the City for their projects. This level of clarity around expectations and timeline will support further development, while also standardizing the community benefits provided through the tax stabilization process,” said Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11).
“The ordinance is a critical first step in updating the laws related to contracting with the City of Providence. TSAs are just one piece of the puzzle in how the City supports and promotes small businesses. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to review and update as necessary other key related ordinances, including the First Source Hiring Ordinance and the MBE/WBE ordinances,” said Finance Committee Chairwoman Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5).
The final passage of this ordinance is the culmination of several years of effort by the Council working in collaboration with stakeholders to revamp the tax stabilization process. The resulting Tax Stabilization Investment Act supports and incentivizes development, while also providing consistent and tangible benefits for local residents every time a stabilization agreement is approved by the City Council.
At last night’s City Council meeting, Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1) proposed a change to the Providence Code of Ordinances which would require a building official to provide written notice to their City Council representative upon the issuance of a demolition permit. This ordinance was co-sponsored by Council President John J. Igliozzi Esq. (Ward 7), Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilman James Taylor (Ward 8), Councilwoman Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13), and Councilor David Salvatore (Ward 14).
“Recently, a beloved building in the Fox Point neighborhood was demolished, to the surprise of myself and the local community. Not only was this demolition project an inconvenience to residents of the area, it also was at the location of the former Duck & Bunny; a landmark of the Fox Point neighborhood,” stated Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1).
Under current City law, building officials are not required to notify the City Council or the local neighborhood when a demolition permit has been issued. The proposal would require that written notice be given to the Council representative. This will allow for proper communication to be made between various City Departments, and ensure that residents and businesses surrounding the demolition site are made aware of the upcoming operations in their neighborhood.
“As a City, we work best when communication is open and reliable. As a City Councilman, I know I can better serve my constituents when I am aware of all developments in our Ward. Residents of any neighborhood deserve to know about major plans for construction or demolition which could affect their property, quality of life, safety or the integrity of our neighborhood. Moving forward, I hope this ordinance will encourage an open line of communication between building officials, City operations and residents,” added Councilman Goncalves.
The ordinance has been referred to the Committee on Ordinances for further review.
The facility will be a new state-of-the-art school for the City of Providence,
and will be a significant investment in the Broad Street corridor.
Tonight, the Council’s Committee on Ordinances chaired by Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) approved a zoning change to the former St. Joseph’s Hospital. The property is currently owned by Paolino Properties, and it will be donated to the City of Providence. The building will be transformed into a state-of-the-art school as part of the City’s $300 million rehabilitation and reconstruction of the City’s school infrastructure. The new school will span across seven acres at 21 Peace Street, and the development is expected to become an economic catalyst for the South Providence neighborhood.
“First and foremost, I want to express my thanks to former Mayor Paolino for his generous donation to the City of Providence. This project will be a significant economic stimulus for the Broad Street corridor, and this is a great collaboration between the community and the petitioner. I want to also commend my colleague, Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, for her dedication and advocacy in making sure that this project was done right and has the best interest of the neighborhood and our students in mind. As we work to turn our 20th-century schools into 21st-century places of learning, we must ensure that our students are top of mind. We can use this property as a template for what a 21st-century school can become. With this kind of neighborhood activation – the possibilities are endless for new development,” stated Chairwoman of the Committee on Ordinances and Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan.
After a public meeting in January of this year, and after several committee meetings where neighbors raised concerns regarding how the building will be used, the City and the petitioner worked to create changes to the original plan. The changes address those concerns and codify uses for the property. The property will be zoned to accommodate housing, educational facilities, office spaces, or recreational facilities. Former Mayor Paolino is donating the East Building, the chapel, and parking lot to the City of Providence, and the value of his generous donation is estimated to be approximately $7 million.
Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) and a member of the Committee on Ordinances shared, “I am thankful to former Mayor Paolino and Paolino Properties for listening to the concerns of my community. For too long, South Providence residents have not had a seat at the table when it came to redevelopment and other important building initiatives in our neighborhood. With the support of Majority Leader Ryan and my colleagues on the Committee on Ordinances, we made sure that we addressed the residents’ concerns, and I thank all those who participated in this process. There is no doubt that we need this space to provide an amazing new school for South Providence residents. I am pleased that the commitment to the building’s uses alleviates much of my neighbors’ concerns expressed over the past several months. I look forward to seeing the building in use and to what the future holds for our neighborhood.”
The 8-story building is located in South Providence and will become a state-of-the-art dual-language school for students in pre-K through 8th grade. The property reconstruction is scheduled for completion in time for the start of the 2024-2025 school year. The zoning change will be sent to the full City Council for vote and passage.
“Every Providence student deserves a high-quality education in a modern, safe school building, and today’s vote brings us one step closer to making that goal a reality,” said Harrison Peters, superintendent of Providence Public Schools. “I appreciate the City Council’s commitment to working in partnership with the community as we move forward with this exciting project and want to again thank former Mayor Joseph Paolino for his generous donation.”
The estimated cost for the transformation of St. Joseph’s Hospital is estimated at around $75 million and will be funded through bonding initiatives previously approved by the Providence City Council. The first being a $160 million bond approved in 2018 and the second approved in 2020. Both bonds were voted and approved by the residents of Providence.