Unpaid Providence Police Detail Up 50% to Nearly $2 Million
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
City Councilman Michael Correia sent a letter to the Board of Licenses on July 21 questioning the role of the city Code of Ordinances, which lists delinquency on payment for police and fire details as a reason a special event permit may be denied -- and asked that the Board examine special event permits that have been issued in recent months to ensure they were granted in compliance with the requirements of the ordinance.
SLIDES: See Past Due Details Owed BELOW
“Simply put, if an applicant for a special event permit, or a license of any kind, is delinquent on payments for City fees such as police and fire detail, the permit or license should be withheld until their debt is paid off. We should not be providing more services, and adding additional fees to their outstanding balances,” Correia said. “We may need to streamline the process to make sure these types of oversights do not occur."
Mayor Angel Taveras did not respond to request for comment on the increase in money owed to the city over the past year, or Correia's request from the Board of Licenses regarding adherence to city ordinance.
Addressing Shortfall -- and Policy
"I've had several of my constituents that have brought this to issue to my attention, who say that it's unfair that they fall behind on taxes, and water bill, and they're almost immediately put up for tax sale, and these various organizations and vendors can go months and years," said Correia, who noted he had heard from the Board of Licenses and said he expected to know more soon on his request.
"This money is recoverable money and for services rendered -- if it continues to go on, we need to take legal action," said Correia.
Several groups have entered into repayment agreements with the City of Providence, including the Puerto Rican and Dominican Festivals. GoLocal's Stephen Beale wrote in 2013 of Waterfire's agreement with the City of Providence, which requires them to pay a flat fee of $25,000 a year for detail, with the city shouldering the rest.
"A lot of these groups that use these details are contributing positively to the city, and create a lot of commerce," said City Councilman John Igliozzi.
Addressing collecting moneys owed, Igliozzi said the city has "few avenues." "First of course is to zealously go after these groups who owe money for past detail. They can have those groups enter into payment plans. Or the city can consider these types of events as a benefit to city and as an expense and therefor not keep the debt on the books. Or the city can revamp the whole policy."
"My perspective is that the driving problem has always been the arbitrary and capricious in the dealing of payment of detail," said Igliozzi. "It can't be subjective -- if you want the city to be perceived as fair, you have to apply objectively. This issue has gone up and down over the past years, we've had the same results. Maybe we need a hybrid of the approaches I suggested, but something needs to be done."
Questioning Detail Payments -- and Needs
Mike Stenhouse with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity called for a review-- both of the contracts, and also the need for the amount of details.
"In a free-society, organizations should not be barred from conducting public events for this reason. The Center recommends that all cities conduct a comprehensive review to determine if such mandated details are necessary in all cases," said Stenhouse.
"Like so many other licensing and permitting regulations, we question if these details are mandated out of genuine concern for security and order, or strictly as yet another way to funnel private and taxpayer dollars to union members," continued Stenhouse. "Look no further than the recent increase in vehicle inspection fees, passed by the General Assembly this year, which did nothing to directly enhance auto safety, but rather was used as a blatant money grab from the general public."
Taxpayer advocacy group RI Taxpayer similarly addressed several aspects of the issue, from enforcing uniform detail payment -- to questioning detail needs.
Chartier continued, "Kudos to GoLocalProv for determining that the amount of unpaid details continues to rise and that Providence, however unofficially, continues to exempt certain organizations from this ordinance. It is not acceptable for the city to simply view this debt as a cost of doing business. As long as the ordinance remains on the books, Providence must compel all organizations to adhere to it. If some do not, it makes sense for the city to withhold permits until their balance is cleared."
Of the five major Mayoral candidates, two opted to weigh in to provide their perspective on the matter.
"Absolutely the city should collect these fees or deny the permits," said Republican candidate for Mayor Dr. Daniel Harrop. "The city's financial status is precarious enough as it is. We have a near $7 million hole in the city budget next fiscal year created by manipulations in the tax rate the city council just made. We all have to do our part as "One Providence" (as one of my opponents says) and pay our bills on time."
Democrats Brett Smiley, Jorge Elorza, and Michael Solomon did not respond to request for comment. Former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci took the opportunity, however.
"This is where experience counts. In 1975, I got a visit from the head of the IRS at the time," said Cianci. "He walked into my office, and said none of the police were paying income taxes on their detail pay. So we ended up sitting down with the unions, who maintained they didn't owe it, but we worked it out, and arranged for the officers to take loans if need be."
"Those years, there were loose deals," said Cianci. "So we put in a system where the city got paid and taxes taken out. When event permits were conditional upon detail, that became a major issue. I don't know who owes the money now, but there should be a better collection method. That's money the taxpayers are fronting, that's coming out of the budget. Whoever's enforcing is needs to explain why it's not being enforced."
Related Slideshow: Past Due Police Detail: Who Owes the Most?
- Providence Hit with $1.3M in Unpaid Police Details
- Providence Police Union Slams Taveras on Unpaid Festival Police Details
- Taveras Police Detail Costs Providence $500k
- Carol Anne Costa: The Devil is in the Details