With less than three weeks until the statewide election, and with the two poised to face off in a mayoral debate this afternoon, Republican candidate for mayor Sue Stenhouse went on the offensive against Mayor Joseph Solomon on Monday through a release that was critically accusatory in regards to Solomon’s handling of a bid this past spring regarding the purchase of city streetlights from National Grid.
“Once again, due to the Acting Mayor’s lack of knowledge about budget matters and his tendency to kick the can down the road – as with the school department funding issue, the Annex redevelopment, repurposing the vacant, surplus city properties throughout our neighborhoods, and the Conimicut Lighthouse matter – Acting Mayor Solomon is now costing the hardworking taxpayers of Warwick tens of thousands tax dollars every month,” Stenhouse said in her release.
Stenhouse is referring in this most recent attack to the collective decision of the city council to hold off on a bid in March – back when Solomon was Council President – that was put forth by the Partnership for Rhode Island Streetlight Management (PRISM) in order to purchase the city’s streetlights from National Grid and realize immediate savings of up to $572,000 in maintenance costs, with more savings going forward by contracting with a Warwick company for maintenance of the lights rather than continue being forced to contract with Grid.
During his presentation to the city, PRISM co-founder George Woodbury made it clear that by continuing to contract under Grid for streetlight maintenance, the city was not leaving around $48,000 in uncaptured savings on the table every month.
Still, the council ultimately held off on awarding the bid, citing PRISM was the only respondent to the bid, that they needed more information and that they had concerns about locking into a contract worth a total of $1.5 million over multiple years that did not include financial estimates for how much it would cost to do the actual conversion to LED lighting. Solomon and council members reiterated their belief in that decision on Wednesday.
“The streetlight proposal that came before me and the entire City Council earlier this year was a no-bid contract. It did not include conversion of the existing infrastructure to LED lights and instead merely involved the acquisition of antiquated, dilapidated equipment and technology that would have resulted in a contract of upwards of $1.5 million,” Solomon said in a statement Wednesday responding to Stenhouse’s release. “The entire City Council, including myself, decided that it did not want to throw good money after bad and would prefer to allocate funds into a full LED streetlight conversion after a competitive bid process. This long-term solution, rather than the short-sighted proposal that was before the City Council, will benefit our community through cost savings, an improved environment and safer neighborhoods.”
“I would add that members of the previous administration did not know the number of lights we have, the number of poles, how many lights are presently red-capped,” Ward 5 Councilman and finance committee chair Ed Ladouceur contributed, also through the statement. “They weren’t in agreement on any of the facts that we needed. We weren’t about to make decisions affecting the taxpayers without accurate information and competitive bids.”
It should be noted that in his presentation to the council Woodbury was clear that, while PRISM’s bid indeed did not include financial estimates on switching to LED lights, it would be essential to own the streetlights and contract with a company to perform maintenance prior to converting anyways – so committing to that process was a necessary first step if the city wanted to go with LED regardless. He said that it would cost around 40 percent more to go through any competing companies, such as Siemens or Honeywell, as PRISM is a nonprofit organization.
Still, Solomon did announce that the city was once again seeking bids through an RFP for LED conversion of streetlights on Oct. 8. However, to Stenhouse, this is too little too late.
“While I applaud the effort to research this initiative, it should never take seven months for action, especially when it involves obtaining substantial revenues to the city,” she said in the release.
Going further, Stenhouse accused Solomon and the city council of failing to remove a projected savings of approximately $500,000 that was included in the city’s streetlighting line item in the FY19 budget (which she claimed went from $1.4 million budgeted in FY18 to $900,000 in FY19).
“The Acting Mayor and the City Council forgot to back fill this line item in the budget after they voted down this initiative on May 21st. Now the City is running a monthly deficit of approximately $40,000 to $48,000 in the streetlight line item,” Stenhouse said. “If Solomon read the budget and understood the PRISM savings was included in it, and still chose to hold off on the plan, he has grossly mismanaged taxpayer money and is a political obstructionist. If he did not read the budget, then he is not qualified to hold office.”
Council President Steve Merolla was pointed in his response to Stenhouse’s comments.
“Throughout his tenure on the City Council, Mayor Solomon has been a strong advocate for the taxpayer and has insisted on a competitive bid process, whether it be for bids over $2,500 or the city’s health care contract, which has saved the taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Merolla. “This issue is no different. We need a comprehensive, competitive bid process to ensure we are spending money wisely. In the entire time I have served on the City Council, Sue Stenhouse never voted against a tax increase. Not once when we were debating the issue of streetlights did Sue show up to give her opinion, nor has she attended any council meetings or budget hearings to express her thoughts on school allocations or any other issues or concerns she has relative to the budget.”