PROVIDENCE — Antonio Pires, a special fiscal advisor to Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, returned to his old stomping ground, the House Finance Committee hearing room, Tuesday seeking permission for the city to dip into its fire prevention and cemetery perpetual care accounts to help shore up a looming $6.5 million deficit.
Pires, a former state representative from Pawtucket, was a longtime chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Pawtucket also joined West Warwick and other communities in asking the General Assembly to reduce the local allocation to its public library for the coming year and still keep its approximately $200,000 in state aid.
The state usually requires municipalities to allocate at least the same amount to libraries that it did in the previous year — called maintenance of effort — to qualify for state aid.
Pawtucket originally requested permission to allocate 66 percent of last year’s amount to the library but Pires told the committee that an 80 percent allocation — the amount being requested by West Warwick and other communities — would be doable for Pawtucket also.
Pires testified that Pawtucket, “not unlike our neighboring city of Central Falls, is in a desperate situation.
The mayor’s budget is a budget that attempts to prevent the city from falling into bankruptcy.”
He said the city has been able to whittle an estimated $13 million deficit down to $3 million.
Part of that solution, Pires said, involves scooping $500,000 from the $503,000 Cemetery Perpetual Care Fund and another $25,000 from the $61,000 Fire Prevention Fund. Pires said those two funds were created a long time ago and most of the money that goes toward fire prevention and cemetery care in Pawtucket come from the city’s general fund.
Those two funds are called restricted receipt account and the money that goes into them are only supposed to be used for specific uses.
Pires said that because of the “significant deficit” the city is facing, “we think it is appropriate to scoop from those funds.
He said it would result in “no diminishment” to either the cemeteries or fire prevention because the city will maintain those through general revenues.
Ellen Dyer, president of the RI Library Association, opposed allowing municipalities to reduce their contributions to libraries, saying it would be a “huge erosion” and “each year there will be less and less funding for each individual library.
Pires acknowledged that this is likely not to be the last year that Pawtucket seeks relief from maintenance of effort in library funding.
“Abrogation of this responsibility,” Dyer said, “will hit hardest the communities requiring the most services and resources. Libraries are a state resource, she asserted, used on a statewide basis.
Dyer painted public libraries as a working example of the shared services that budget cutters are calling for across the state. Dyer said libraries across the state cooperate extensively through resource sharing, consolidated services and statewide purchasing resulting in substantial cost savings for municipalities and the avoidance of costly duplications.
“Library materials are constantly in motion from Woonsocket to Westerly,” she noted.
Libraries are sensitive to financial difficulties, Dyer said, as they are already experiencing layoffs, reduced hours, furlough days, delayed maintenance and cancelled purchases.
The committee voted to hold all the bills for further study.