By JACOB MARROCCO
Mayor Joseph Polisena said he was unsure about the status of laid-off part-time workers and continued to advocate level funding for all towns and cities during an interview with the Sun Rise on Tuesday.
Polisena has repeatedly lauded maintenance staff, his administration and Town Hall employees for their strict sanitation procedures throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He said only a handful of workers had to stay at home because of health issues.
“Quite frankly, I’m seeing that the operation still continues without the part-timers, so we’re going to take a hard look at that and see if we are going to bring them back,” Polisena said. “As I said, I want to stay within this budget, and I’m very happy to say, I know I sound like a broken record, we didn’t have a tax increase, especially in a year we’ve had an economic collapse. We’re going to keep trucking along.”
While he again touted that the town won’t see a tax increase for the fourth year in a row, he said he couldn’t promise that he will never have to approve a hike. He said “if something major came along and we had to come up with some money, I would’ve raised them.”
There were some increases in police and fire overtime within the budget, but Polisena said he would rather absorb those figures than hire more employees. He said putting on 10 new police officers or firefighters would cost about $1 million in salary and benefits, while the overtime was about half the cost.
“That’s just a prediction of numbers of course, but it is about $1 million. It’s about $100,000 per firefighter, per police officer that you put on,” Polisena said. “Basically, we did move money around here and there. We worked with the [Town] Council and they had no problem with it, we didn’t have a deficit and the surplus obviously is growing, so we’re very happy with that.”
Polisena said he has sent letters to the members of Johnston’s legislative delegation – Reps. Mario Mendez, Deborah Fellela, Stephen Ucci and Gregory Constantino and Sens. Stephen Archambault and Frank Lombardo III – urging level funding.
“I was a state senator for 12 years and I know how it works, you have to fight for your community, and if you don’t fight for your community I have no problem finding out who voted not to level fund us and if I had to send out a supplemental tax bill, their name would be on that tax bill,” Polisena said. “I’m not going to put the council’s name and the administration’s name on there because we didn't raise taxes.”
When asked how he would actually put the legislators on the tax bill should they vote against level funding, Polisena invoked the reporter’s name for the metaphor.
“Let’s say for instance, Jacob Marrocco didn’t vote to level fund us and voted to cut, or voted for the cuts, then I would put out a letter stating that you have a tax increase because Sen. or Rep. Jake Marrocco refused to fight for us,” Polisena said. “Obviously if they cut us and our delegation votes against the cuts, then I can’t fault them for that. If they vote along to get along, they’re going to have a problem because I’m not going to take the heat for them, nor is the council.”
Polisena also touched on Encompass Health’s application to build a 50-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility in town, which was approved by the state’s Health Services Council in March. The matter then went to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott’s desk just as the pandemic took hold in Rhode Island.
Alexander-Scott has yet to decide one way or another, Department of Health public information officer Joseph Wendelken told the Sun Rise in an email.
Polisena said Encompass is estimated to spend between $48 and $50 million on the project, and added that the community would “tend to benefit from competition.”
“I know that the hospitals don’t want to see it because nobody likes competition, and I understand that, but that’s not a reason,” Polisena said. “I think it’d be great. A lot of people that I talk to, they go out to Boston. They take that ride to Boston for rehab instead of around here, so this will prevent that hopefully because you're going to have a rehab hospital that actually does rehab.”