The city of Providence is "back from the brink" announced Providence Mayor Angel Taveras at Tuesday evening's State of the City address before the Providence City Council chambers and other dignitaries, including Governor Chafee.
Standing in stark contrast from the State of the city address a year ago where Taveras said the "Providence is in peril" this year the speech was much more hopeful.
"Providence is recovering," said Taveras. "Through collaborative efforts and shared sacrifice, we have all but eliminated our City's $110 million structural deficit, and we expect to end this year with a balanced budget. Working together, we have accomplished what few believed possible."
Taveras touted his efforts alongside the city council to reform city pensions by negotiating with city retirees, fire fighters, and police.
"Last month, Providence's police officers – who serve and protect our City every single day and have not had a raise in six years – joined with Providence's firefighters and retirees in agreeing to a landmark reform of our City's pension system," said Taveras. Taveras personally thanked city workers from Laborers Local 1033, the city's firefighters' union, the police union and Providence's teachers union as well as their leadership for making sacrifices to help the city move forward.
In addition Taveras applauded the city's non-profit organizations including the city's colleges and health care institutions for chipping in to improve the city's finances.
"Following our dire warnings a year ago that we would fall into the dark hole of insolvency without help from every stakeholder in our City, all of our major tax-exempt institutions joined us in pulling Providence back from the brink," said Taveras.
Taveras also applauded the work of the General Assembly and Governor Chafee for their commitment to Providence.
"As a City and State we have demonstrated that even when the stakes are at their highest and the path forward is beset with obstacles, reasonable people can get things done when they are committed to working together. There's nothing we cannot accomplish when we are united," said Taveras.
Taveras said while the city has withstood the "worst of our fiscal storm we must remain vigilant."
He noted that Moody's Investor Service said the city has "little room for error in the event of future operating pressures."
"Providence's reserve funds have been depleted, and we must manage our City's finances responsibly and transparently, and work to replenish our reserves and restore our credit ratings in the coming months and years," said Taveras.
In addition Taveras highlighted a need to improve education in the city and public safety. He noted the need to take action to address the "devastating impacts of our nation's foreclosure crisis and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression."
Taveras recognized that the city's recovery is "slow" but noted it is heading "in the right direction."
In an effort to continue to propel Providence's momentum Taveras said he will release a "comprehensive plan" to promote economic development. The plan will include an approach to build upon Providence's assets and develop the "Knowledge District." As well as promote the city's industrial port, promote small business and take advantage of the city's artist community.
Taveras highlighted the city's issues concerning education. "Only 46 percent of Providence's fourth graders were reading on grade level last year. We have set an ambitious goal to have 70 percent of our students reading on grade level at the end of third grade in 2015," said Taveras. He highlighted the "Providence Reads" program as well as a city program called Leyendo to teach reading to student whose first language is not English.
When it came to public safety Taveras said it is a "top priority for me as Mayor."
"One crime, is too much crime and the job of keeping our city safe never ends," said Taveras. He noted gun violence as a particular detriment to the city. He later noted his commitment to "passing reasonable, common-sense gun control legislation."
Outside of gun crime Taveras said the city did improve in most other crime categories. "The Providence metropolitan region is ranked the No. 6 most peaceful area in the country by the Institute for Economics and Peace, using an index that measures homicides, violent crime, incarceration, the number of police and the availability of small arms."
In regards to fire safety, Taveras announced that the city is currently conducting a Firefighter Academy to hire up to 50 new firefighters and help the city save on overtime costs.
Taveras also touted neighborhood watch initiatives and the availability of summer jobs and recreational activities to keep young people out of trouble.
He also commended his city workers for excellent service to citizens and applauded efforts by the Providence Community Action Program to reorganize and continue to provide important services to residents.
Taveras also highlighted the importance of improving Providence's roads noting "there is much more work to be done."
He discussed the importance of the city's "Big Green Can" recycling program and the city's "Lots of Hope" program to convert vacant lots into urban community gardens.
He lauded the city's major events over the past year including X-Factor, Netroots Nation, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and the Dunkin' Donuts AHL All-Star Classic.
Taveras concluded his speech on a hopeful note, "Make no mistake; we expect to face challenges in the months ahead. But every day, I am reminded that Providence is truly the beating heart of our state."
He continued, "Despite the crisis that has battered our Capital City these past two years, our colleges and universities continue to attract talented and entrepreneurial people from every corner of the world. The caliber of our restaurants, theaters and hotels has earned Providence a national reputation as the Creative Capital. The state of our City is getting stronger. Providence is recovering."