It was a tough choice for Woonsocket city leaders Sunday night at an emergency meeting this holiday weekend. They decided to surrender to the state. The city council voted five to two to allow a budget commission to take over.
Once the budget commission takes over, its members make financial decisions having to do with Woonsocket, not the council. And that commission could call for an even larger supplemental tax hike than the 13 percent the council already passed.
After about an hour of going back and forth with some bickering and a couple rounds of applause from the crowd of thirty, the Woonsocket city council voted to turn control over to the state.
What that means is the mayor, council president, and three state appointees will make the city's future financial decisions. Mayor Leo Fontaine sat in on the emergency meeting and told us it's not a decision any of them wanted to make but at this point their hands are tied.
"We're facing the reality that the school department ran out of money last week, they overdrew their accounts," said Mayor Fontaine, "The city had to come in and float a loan for them just to cover their payroll."
Because the city was expecting state leaders to pass a thirteen percent tax increase last week that would provide some budget relief. That didn't happen, so now the Woonsocket council is letting a state-run board choose how to balance the books, whether that's going into bankruptcy or raising taxes.
"They absolutely could ask for higher taxes," said Mayor Fontaine, "And that's why we've been fighting all along to keep ourselves under our own authority without having the state come in, because once you step into the realm of a budget commission or a receiver you don't know and they may go out for a higher tax."
Either way, Mayor Fontaine said his city is definitely not out of hot water. Even with a budget commission in place, it's still likely schools will run out of money in June.
Just because the Woonsocket city council voted for a state take-over, it doesn't mean it'll happen, at least not right away. The state's director of revenue and Governor Chafee have to sign off on this.