December 16, 2010

Receiver: Merge Central Falls/Pawtucket

Marc Comtois

Former Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer, appointed as receiver for troubled Central Falls, has come out with his recommendation (PDF): merge Central Falls with Pawtucket (via 7to7).

"The problems are so severe that they cannot be solved solely through efficiencies and additional revenue at the city level," he wrote. " ... state action is required if the city is to avoid fiscal collapse in its immediate future."

The major problem is the city, with an annual operating budget of about $16 million, is facing about $48 million in pension and after-retirement obligations, he said. Essentially, the city spent years giving out pension and retirement benefits without figuring out how to pay for them, he said.

That mistake was exacerbated by municipal officials who didn't notice or appreciate the problems, he said, ignoring them when they were manageable and only reacting when it was too late.

A merger with Pawtucket would put Central Falls in a municipality with similar demographics and issues, Pfeiffer said....The lower income population of Central Falls would make it easier for Pawtucket to attract government grants, he said, and the increased population would make the new combined entity the second biggest city in the state, enhancing its legislative clout.

Pfeiffer outlined a plan, which, interestingly enough, would basically involve statewide reform. It includes:

1) Consolidating pension funds across the state and modifying the current system (ie; increase retirement age, payouts, etc.)
2) Implementing a statewide health insurance plan for government employees at the state/municipal level.
3) Reforms to how Collective Bargaining Agreements are constituted, including a "zero-baseline" re-negotiation mandate every 10 years to account for changes in fiscal situation of the municipality.

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It would make more sense to merge CF with Lincoln. They would be able to absorb CF easier, and they have the casino money. I don't think they will put CF into Lincoln because Lincoln is a wealthier white neighborhood, even though CF was part of Lincoln in the past. More likely they will push one extremely poor city into one border line poor city.

Posted by: Swazool at December 16, 2010 2:32 PM

(Note: I live in Pawtucket)

I think Pawtucket makes sense. We could use the tax base, Pawtucket's government is already clearly oversized, and dissolving CF's services and covering them from Pawtucket would be kid stuff.

There's nowhere in CF that is too far to cover from the downtown fire/police station. Covering CF from Pawtucket's existing resources would represent a shrinking of Pawtucket's government by 14% per square mile, and 26% per-capita, if implemented properly. That's enough savings to avoid the foreseeable fiscal issues the city faces.

Also, from a cultural perspective, CF and Pawtucket jive. Not so much between CF and the suburbs. That's actually -really- important when you're talking about doing this sort of thing. A broken and fractured community won't ever recover. Pawtucket itself never recovered from the installation of the highway, which split downtown's retail from the 'affluent' Quality Hill neighborhood.

This does involve shutting down CF's government completely, though. Anything less and it would just be tying two sinking ships together.

Posted by: mangeek at December 16, 2010 3:51 PM

The conventional wisdom, totalitarian government programs have proven their value in the bankruptcy of Central Falls. It's time for a genuinely creative solution. Have you noticed how all the municipal basket-cases in the country have been run by Democrats for decades?

Let's try this: Turn Central Falls over to Republicans. Exempt it from all state mandates, especially those of Title 16 of the RIGL (Labor) and all welfare/Section 8 and other handout programs. Make the Fire Dept. volunteer, and the police non-union. Turn the entire school system over to charter school operators on a non-union basis. Exempt businesses there from state taxes for five years.

Watch the residents build a community and the economy grow.

It's a small place with no hope under the present regime, perfect for an experiment.

Posted by: Contrarian View at December 16, 2010 6:11 PM

I remember years ago a vote to regionalize the schools passed in Central Falls but was defeated in Pawtucket. Would both municipalities be able to vote on a merger? Would the legislature order it without a vote?
Politically, it would be my assumption Pawtucket would shy away from merger with Central Falls unless it was forced to merge. Pawtucket has had a lot of "political juice" through the years to get what it wants. If it does not want to merge the legislature and voters likely will not agree unless a court orders it which is doubtful.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at December 16, 2010 6:40 PM

The whole damn state needs to be consolidated. Get rid of SO many cronies-city council, school commitee, superintendents, solicitors, municipal judges, chiefs, assistant chiefs, deputy assistant chiefs, assistant deputy chiefs, etc., etc., etc.
These useless crony positions are the base of "da party of da workin people".

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at December 16, 2010 6:51 PM

Exempt CF from section 8 and welfare? I would venture to bet that over 90% of the residents are using one or both, there is no way you could do that.

CF should be combined with Pawtucket, N. Providence, providence, Lincoln, and Cumberland. Don't put all this on 1 town, just start regionalization now.

Posted by: Swazool at December 16, 2010 8:43 PM

"CF should be combined with Pawtucket, N. Providence, providence, Lincoln, and Cumberland."

I wouldn't put urban and suburban groups under the same local governance, the needs of a city are totally different than those of the suburbs.

Both cities generate plenty of -revenue- from taxes, but both have governments that have grown too big for that revenue to support. If Pawtucket and CF merged without growing the government, and CF's government was eliminated from the equation, it would give 'New Pawtucket' a fighting chance to navigate the fiscal realities.

Also, do you -really- want to divvy-up a single square mile amongst more than one government? Do you really think CF kids will integrate Just Fine into Lincoln or Cumberland schools?

I put this on Facebook earlier, but I'll share it here so you get a better understanding:

(CF tax base) / (CF costs) = fiscal collapse already

(Pawtucket tax base) / (Pawtucket costs) = fiscal collapse soon

(CF tax base + Pawtucket tax base)/(CF costs + Pawtucket costs ) = fiscal collapse soon

(CF tax base + Pawtucket tax base)/( Pawtucket costs) = Win-win for CF and Pawtucket

Posted by: mangeek at December 16, 2010 9:50 PM

Note: I live in Pawtucket

They are canceling a basketball game this weekend between Central and Classical because of threats of violence.

I don't know how long you have lived in the bucket, or if you went to school here (I will venture a bet not long and you didn't go to school here), but CF kids and Pawtucket kids hate each other. There is already violence between these two school, do you really think CF kids will integrate just fine into Pawtucket schools?

Posted by: Swazool at December 17, 2010 8:52 AM

Here are the intangibles you do see in your neat little equation.

Also, why should the State get the only positive money maker Wyatt Detention Center but dump all the negatives of Central Falls on Pawtucket?

No way it will pass a vote in Pawtucket. Not a chance.

Posted by: Swazool at December 17, 2010 9:02 AM

Why on earth would anybody want Central Falls. Merging it with Pawtucket is akin to throwing an anchor to a drowning man.
The key in what has to happen begins with these words of advice from Pfeiffer:
•Create a single system for pensions and after-retirement health care for all public employees that would standardize benefits and spread out costs.

•Change state laws on municipal contracts to ban automatic renewal when a new agreement isn’t reached; ban any retirement benefits that exceed the statewide standard, should it be adopted; ban provisions such as minimum manning rules that limit municipalities’ ability to close or reorganize departments.

This has to happen in EVERY municipality in RI, or they will all meet this fate.

When you saw that 1000 people applied for the 90 or so teaching positions after the Central Falls teachers were initially fired, it shows what lies we've been hearing from the teacher union clowns in Central Falls. We now can see clearly that there are indeed plenty of qualified people to take those jobs, and the working conditions aren't as bad as the union propagandists will have you believe.

In the end, the problems of so many states and municipalities will not be solved until the cancer known as public-employee unions is excised.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at December 17, 2010 11:30 AM

"Why on earth would anybody want Central Falls. Merging it with Pawtucket is akin to throwing an anchor to a drowning man."

You know, it -does- generate tax revenue. The overhead of having a city that's only 1.3 square miles but still has a fire district, police department, city hall, public works, and schools to take care of is just too much. That and what is there has been horribly mismanaged.

Pawtucket is big enough and staffed well enough to handle 'absorbing' a CF who has been mothballed.

And Swazool: So there's a rivalry between CF and Pawtucket. So what. It's not like CF is going to get up and move away from their border. The best long-term solution is for CF to just end up as a neighborhood of Pawtucket. If we could integrate segregated schools in the 1960s, we can merge two urban school districts. In five years, there will be no such thing as a rivalry.

Also, this is the most 'democratic' option. If your city fails, it gets merged with it's neighbors along sensible borders (CF is one neighborhood, so it should go in one piece). It's not like you can suspend the law, install Republicans, and let CF become some sort of free-market wonderland. A Pawtucket merger restores democracy.

Posted by: mangeek at December 17, 2010 6:57 PM

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mangeek - what are you talking about?

"You know, it -does- generate tax revenue." Yeah, but nowhere near enough to cover their expenses?

" The overhead of having a city that's only 1.3 square miles but still has a fire district, police department, city hall, public works, and schools to take care of is just too much. "

If it was that simple, please tell me - why are they bankrupt?

"That and what is there has been horribly mismanaged."
Just like every municipality in this state that is run for the public employee unions.

Mangeek, you are witnessing a foreshadowing of what is coming to every municipality in this state. The inevitable day of reckoning from paying people way too much for what they do, with the associated benefits has finally arrived.
The fix for this clusterf@ck is politically unpopular, so it will not be attempted. However, that does not change reality - RI is screwed. Thank the public employee unions.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at December 17, 2010 8:47 PM

I would call it more than a "rivalry" between the two schools.

There is no chance the people of Pawtucket will vote to allow CF to become part of its city. Not one person I have asked thinks that "bucket falls" is a good idea.

Posted by: Swazool at December 17, 2010 9:16 PM

"Contrarian View", above, asks: "Have you noticed how all the municipal basket-cases in the country have been run by Democrats for decades?

Maybe not so fast. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that whenever there is single-party extreme dominance of a municipality, the municipality is likely to be a financial basket case.

For example, Long Island was for years (and may still be) wholly dominated by Republicans and was a financial basket case -- despite the relative affluence of the area's residents.

Whenever healthy two-party co-existence is absent, there will be corruption and financial chaos. It doesn't seem to matter whether the dominant party is Democrat or Republican.

Posted by: Bill at December 19, 2010 11:34 PM
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