Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has reversed course on his plan to monetize the Providence Water Supply and has asked General Assembly sponsors of the Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act to withdraw their bills in the House and Senate. This comes after the Mayor held three “community conversations” in an attempt to get Providence residents on board with the idea of leasing Providence Water to a private company and using the money to shore up the City’s ballooning pension obligation.
“Putting Providence on solid financial footing has been a priority for my administration since day one,” said Elorza at a press conference in his office on Thursday, surrounded by state and city elected officials. “We’ve listened to community members and we want to ensure that we take our next steps together, as a city. While we have withdrawn our support of the proposed Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act, we will continue to meet with residents to discuss the city’s financial challenges and to put forward new and different ideas to address them. We believe that doing nothing is not an option and we look forward to working together with the City Council, our state delegation, and our residents to find solutions to make our city stronger and more vibrant.”
Also speaking at the press conference were Providence City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15):
Providence City Councilor Helen Anthony (Ward 2)
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3):
Meg Kerr of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and President of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) spoke about the book What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha which is about the Flint water crisis. Dr Hanna-Attisha will be speaking in Providence on April 11.
Questions from the press:
Here are the rest of Elorza’s comments at the press conference, since I was a little late to the press conference and unable to record it all:
“These challenges that we have will only be solved if we take collective ownership over these challenges, and apply a collaborative approach to solving them. That’s why we’re asking our sponsors, the sponsors who have agreed to propose the Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act, the idea to monetize the water supply to benefit the City of Providence and to help address our pension challenges, we’re asking our sponsors to pull this bill from consideration as we are officially withdrawing our support and we have no plans to pursue this bill in the future.
“We’ve heard from residents that they want more clarity about how a transaction would have worked, and there also is a great deal of anxiety any time you talk about water, it being a natural resource, it being a public resource, that it be maintained in public hands.
“So while there is an appetite for exploring a statewide solution to water challenges, the City will not be pursuing the Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act to monetize the water supply.
“Throughout the last three years my administration has remained deeply committed to protecting our employees, stabilizing our rates, ensuring the quality and reliability of water that is delivered to the 60 percent of Rhode Islanders, and for maintaining our system investments.
“We are not abandoning our efforts to address our City’s long term financial issues, nor are we proscribing one particular solution going forward. This is about working collaboratively with ll of our stakeholders, and coming up with new and different solutions that will make our city stronger and more vibrant. We’re going to build upon the feedback and conversations that we’ve had to date to evaluate what we can do to efficiently run our City while putting Providence on the right financial path.
“We want to hear more from our community members and we want them to be as involved as possible in this process and learn from those conversations. We’ve heard a number of very constructive ideas from the community. We look forward to working, in conjunction with the City Council, on a joint commission where we will have these conversation to figure out what the best solutions will be.
“I look forward to having everyone at the table, in particular our legislative leaders, both in the House and the Senate, and all our residents.
“We also heard, and I believe there’s broad agreement, that doing nothing is simply not an option. We can’t kick the can down the road, and we have to take action. We maintain our commitment to do all we can to set the City on a more stable financial path for future generations of our great City. We’re not kicking the can down the road any further, because we simply can’t afford to. Our children, our families and our neighbors cannot afford it.
“This is about more than simply having difficult conversations, and this is bigger than local politics. We’re going to continue to be focused on our long term financial challenges and continue meeting with folks, anyone who wants to be part of the solution, so that we can face the challenges that we will meet in the next decade and beyond.
“We’ll be scheduling workshops later this year, to give a space for residents to discuss the different options that we come up with collectively, and what will and what won’t work for our community. So this is just a continuation of that much more important conversation, which is the City’s long term financial situation. So everything do going forward will be with the idea of putting the City on the right financial path, and the only way that we can accomplish that is by working together…
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