Only time will tell if Mayor Joseph Solomon will be able to deliver on his promise for “an even better Warwick,” but there is certainly no denying that he put his best foot forward during Tuesday evening’s city inauguration.
Warwick’s head executive came off polished in rehearsed (in a good way) in his first major speech as the duly-elected mayor, appearing to be relaxed and excited about the possibilities that now lie before him. At a time of great transition in the city, Solomon’s demeanor and playful candor with those on stage with him was a welcome sign – it felt mayoral.
This isn’t to say that Solomon hasn’t been performing mayoral duties since he was thrust into the position in May. He has responded to crises, inter-departmental overturn and been the one to answer for numerous reports of fiscally suspicious behavior on the part of the Warwick Fire Department. Through these challenges Solomon has so far displayed an ability to make hard decisions and, in situations where the decisions require more thought, he has sought information from others in order to make an informed decision.
On Tuesday Solomon showed a willingness to commit to certain endeavors, like implementing LED lights in Warwick city-wide, reinvigorating public spaces and making it easier for businesses to succeed. He has dedicated himself to one-on-one business visits throughout his tenure, an admirable feat to get to know those who live and work in the city he now oversees. His idea to include Warwick restaurateurs at the inauguration was an especially thoughtful and considerate move.
All told, Solomon appeared to not only be prepared for his first term, but happy to be in the position. We consider this a very welcome sight, and look forward to working with him in the months ahead.
But many challenges are on the horizon. One, in particular, looms large. There are murmurings of serious fiscal unrest bubbling underneath the apparently calm surface of the city’s budget – one that is rooted in unsustainable pension packages and lifetime healthcare benefits for city retirees and the fact that we now have more retired workers in the city than we do workers currently punching a time clock.
It’s a crisis that could jeopardize not only the city’s rainy-day fund – which Solomon, himself, has warned is significantly smaller in reality than what had been previously reported – but the city’s future itself.
It’s a simple math equation. Costs of healthcare continuously go up, and people are living longer than ever after they retire. More workers must cycle in to fill these positions following retirements, and all rightfully want the same pension and healthcare benefits as their predecessors. Without exponentially increasing the amount of revenue the city can create, and even with maximum tax increases every year – which we can think of no faster way to drive people away, which only extenuates the problem – the balloon can only get so big before it pops.
So far, the city has not released a comprehensive assessment of where these obligations will lead in five or 10 years down the road, but considering that the schools have now officially brought suit in order to get more money out of a city that, literally, could not give what they needed even if 100 percent of new tax dollars were dedicated their way, the outlook doesn’t look fantastic.
This isn’t to say Warwick is doomed to go down the path of Central Falls, but it does mean that the city will need to take a good hard look at itself and figure out ways to cut down on legacy costs – a problem that doesn’t have a clear solution at this time. The aforementioned fire department, for example, went all the way to an arbitration decision when the city tried to put new firefighters on a less lucrative pension plan. The results of that arbitration decision have not been publicized at this time.
As advocates for this city and its people, we sincerely hope that there is a long-term solution possible for this issue, and the others – such as large-scale infrastructure problems – that will challenge this administration. We can say with confidence that Solomon has given us hope that he will give it his very best shot.