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City Finance Review Committee Asks for Public Input

Community forum on Feb. 25 at Newport Public Library

Last year, a seven-member Financial Advisory Committee was appointed by the City Council with the task of finding ways Newport can increase revenues and cut expenses.

It’s a vast, broad assignment that has committee members thinking about tourism, taxes, payments in lieu of taxes, pensions, school budgets, city-owned properties, hotels and more.

Their work is just getting started and next week, that committee is asking you to bring your ideas to the table at a public forum they’re hosting at the Newport Public Library.

The forum is on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

Newport isn’t facing immediate fiscal peril, but the city is under great pressure as revenues have leveled off, said Ron Becker, chairman of the committee. And while modest tax increases can bring in additional revenue, the city “needs to do a better job”  looking for other sources of revenue.

“The city has done a good job finding ways to cut or at least level expenses but we’re going to need to do more,” Becker said.

One avenue is through PILOT funds. The committee is identifying institutions, like schools and nonprofits, that might participate in a PILOT program with the understanding that tax-exempt organizations use city services.

Committee member John Florez, CEO of Drupal Connect, said Newport isn’t immune to the dual pressure of increasing expenses and declining revenues.

As the crown jewel of the Rhode Island tourism industry, Newport is poised to capitalize on its brand, Florez said, with results that could not just prevent tax increases, but might reduce taxes.

For example, the committee might consider whether the city should push to attract a five-star hotel.

“There are dozens and dozens of trade shows that come to Newport every year and the feedback always comes back that we don’t have the hotel chops,” Florez said. “That would bring an increased level of traffic to the city of Newport — a different kind of foot traffic.”

But on the flipside, Florez said, there would be resistance from some community groups that would say such a hotel would “comprise the integrity of the community and make Newport more congested.”

It’s a difficult balancing act. Cruise ships pay a fee when they come to Newport, but tour buses do not. Would additional fees for buses drive away business?

“We want to grow tourism, bring more business into town and its possible source of revenues but we don’t want to stick on fees and charges that will drive people away, Becker said.

And there’s numerous city owned properties that could be reimagined to solve urban planning issues or spark new tourism and business opportunities. Why not use them for parties and weddings with partnerships with local event planners?

The group started with “blue sky” ideas, Becker said, and quickly realized they were grappling with a monumental task. The organized their thoughts into more than a dozen categories before “we realized that’s too big” and pared it down to six general categories with committee members taking on two or three topics.

Since then, they’ve been collecting data and fact finding, Becker said, in the hopes of identifying the key stakeholders in any suggestion the committee ultimately ends up making.

And they can’t do it without input from the public. That’s why every Newport resident who is concerned about the city’s financial future is urged to attend the Feb. 25 forum.

With their report with specific suggestions due in May, the committee hopes to have some low hanging fruit that will help Newport find immediate savings.

The other suggestions, which might call for new legislation at the local and state level and other, substantial changes, will come with a roadmap in the hopes of making them achievable.

And they hope that the committee will continue as an ongoing entity after they submit their report in May.

“It doesn’t have to be a temporary assignment,” Florez said. “We can have this ongoing and really have an arm for the City Council that enables us to examine things on a perpetual basis.” 

Larry Gotch February 24, 2014 at 02:12 PM
They must be making a boatload of cash off IYRS then.
George Costanza February 24, 2014 at 02:12 PM
Great information. Can you get the same detailed information for police Detail pay? (a second category of additional pay)
John Florez February 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM
This is straight from the Comptroller, the only Police pay is salary and OT.
Larry Gotch February 25, 2014 at 05:39 PM
More thoughts............ every time we find a way to fill the coffers, e.g. a B&B room tax, a positive. There seems to be some things that has a negative impact. E.G. It is said that the state stance on taxes whew in RI are driving some people out of the state, a negative. Every time someone donates property to the Land Trust, that land comes off the real-estate tax rolls, a negative. We can't let the negatives outweigh the positives. It appears that the 501c corporations are a bane of Newport. When first established, the intent of the 501c was to assist these public entities to exist. Certainly no one will argue with that. Here it is a matter of proportion or disproportion. Our Police department is in proportion to keep the peace here in Newport. The Fire department is sufficient to offer the protection we need. The schools are staffed enough to educate our children. The DPW keeps the storm drains cleared, the pot holes filled, and the streets plowed. All this and more are in proportion to our needs. EXCEPT, the tax exempt's put the proportions out of balance. The millionaires gave up their mansions because they couldn't afford their taxes. Now we get no taxes from them because they belong to the Preservation Society. Besides those, there are plenty more. When the 501c laws were introduced, they were a help and worked well. Now they are playing against us. Could it be possible that the laws that protect the 501c's (especially the commercially successful ones) be adjusted to bring the burden of providing them the same services we ALL receive, into proportion that befits our City that enables their success? Perhaps these 501c's might simply respond to a suggested gratuity to the City based on our need and their benefits. You never know. I am sure some of my thoughts might not be well received in some circles, but these are some of the thoughts that are discussed a dinner tables across the City. Sorry.
G3 February 25, 2014 at 08:31 PM
No one could have said it better, Larry.

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