Last night in his first State of the City address, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza painted a positive outlook for the city, despite a cumulative deficit of more than $13 million and a long legal battle with the city’s firefighters.
Mayor Elorza outlined plans to turn the city around in the coming months and years ahead.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza began his State of the City address by echoing back to his inaugural speech. He reiterated his vision for building a new Providence with more jobs, better schools and more opportunities.
“Over the past year, we’ve come a long way to achieving that vision,” said Elorza, “and while there are still many challenges -- there are still many challenges -- I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together to position Providence for a better future. And make no mistake about it, Providence is beginning a resurgence.”
Elorza acknowledged the recession hit Providence hard and now it’s dogged by a slow recovery.
“But everywhere you look, there are encouraging signs,” he said. “Businesses are hiring, people are buying homes, and developers are beginning to invest and build in Providence once again.”
With development of the I-195 corridor and construction of new hotels and apartments, the mayor said the upcoming construction season will be the busiest that Providence has seen in decades.
“We currently have more than 30 major construction projects, worth almost half a billion dollars that we expect to break ground in 2016,” said Elorza. “And there’s even more on the horizon. People are investing in Providence because we’re heading in the right direction.”
Neighborhoods throughout the city will feel these changes, said Elorza, who stressed his commitment to improving quality of life for all residents. One example of how he plans to do that is by renovating abandoned and blighted properties. He said that’s going to put people to work, increase property values, create more affordable housing and curb inequality.
“And this widening gap between those at the top and those struggling to get by is holding the city back and preventing us from growing a strong middle class,” said the mayor. “We all want a rising tide, but a rising tide can’t just lift the yachts. A rising tide has to lift all boats.”
On education, Elorza made use of a trademark of political speeches. The mayor invited an eighth grader, Francois, who emigrated from Tanzania with his parents seeking better opportunities in this country.
“We just learned that Francois will be attending Classical High School in the fall,” said Elorza, “and so let’s join in congratulating him on what he and his family have accomplished and let's pledge to do more to help him realize his life's goals, whatever they may be.”
The mayor said investing in education is a key component in turning around the city’s economy. He said the city is spending more than $20 million over two years on school repairs and maintenance.
“Now, our city -- it has its share of financial challenges,” he continued. “But I am committed to being fiscally responsible to fix the city’s finances. I refuse to rely on one time fixes and I refuse to kick the can down the road.”
Elorza didn’t share how he would balance a deficit of more than $13 million, but he did tout actions the city has taken to avoid -- in the long-term -- incurring an $85 million deficit by 2021. That includes buying streetlights from National Grid, renegotiating a contract with Roger Williams Park Zoo and restructuring the fire department.
On the last subject, the mayor just barely mentioned the legal dispute he’s tangled in with the firefighters. He changed their work schedules to save money.
“Although I’ve had my disputes with the firefighter union, I've seen the work of our firefighters," said Elorza, "I've seen the work they do each day and let me tell you that we have the finest fleet of firefighters that any city can have.”
The mayor’s positive tone invoked hope and optimism for a recovering Providence. Critics and supporters will be listening for details on how Elorza plans to reduce the city’s deficit when he unveils his budget in April.