Steve Stycos Year End Report: Ending Wasteful Spending, Opening Community Gardens, and Opposing Charter Schools

Ward 1 Council Member Steve Stycos reports on his excellent contributions to the city:

December 21, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I want to update you on my first year on the Cranston City Council and my goals for 2012.

For the most part, the council works well. Debates are generally polite. Council members listen to each other and many change their views when presented with a solid argument. The inflexibility and nastiness which characterize politics in Washington, D.C. are rarely seen at City Hall. In addition, Mayor Allan Fung’s administration is honest and competent. Unfortunately, city finances remain tight due to years of inadequate funding of city-run police and fire pension funds, cuts in state aid and health insurance costs.

During my first year on the Council, I fought wasteful spending, advocated for our children and schools and worked to improve our neighborhoods.

Fight Wasteful Spending
Amendments I offered to the mayor’s budget cut spending by $289,000.
Included in the cuts was the repaving of two school yards. I argued that asphalt is an unsafe playing surface and repaving is not critical.
Another cut came when I discovered the budget included funds to rebuild two playgrounds at Hope Highlands Elementary School. I noted that every other elementary school survives with one playground and some have no playground. The Council made the cut, saving $70,000.
After I discovered that Board of Elections members were paid $12,000 in the last off election year for meeting a total of 73 minutes, I convinced the Council to eliminate their pay.
Shortly after I took office I discovered that the Board of Tax Assessment Review was meeting without taking minutes. In addition, the board, whose members were paid $50/meeting, was meeting more than 100 times a year, sometimes for just twenty minutes. I objected to this secrecy and the three member board was forced to keep minutes. The council also agreed to my proposal to eliminate their pay, saving $22,000 a year.

Advocate for our children and schools
EDUCATION: I was one of two Council members to testify before the Rhode Island Board of Regents in opposition to the creation of a charter school in Cranston. Charter schools spend public money without controls from elected officials and drain badly needed money from our school system.

LIBRARY: After I succeeded in cutting the mayor’s budget by more than a quarter million dollars, I proposed adding $50,000 to the Cranston library budget. In recent years, the library has reduced its reserve fund to provide excellent services in tough financial times. The Council passed the addition, but the mayor vetoed it. The council failed to override the veto by one vote.

PUBLIC HEALTH: I convinced the Council to increase the city license fee to sell tobacco from $25 a year to $100 a year, raising about $7000 and taking a small step to discourage tobacco sales.

WOMEN ON HEARING BOARD: When a citizen alerted me that the Cranston Juvenile Hearing Board’s members were all men, I moved to add two women. The police department refers teenage petty offenders involved in fights and graffiti to the board instead of the court system. We especially need women members because half the cases involve girls. My proposal passed and two capable women were appointed.

Improve our neighborhoods
COMMUNITY GARDEN: With a lot of volunteer help, I started Cranston’s first community garden at Edgewood Highland Elementary School. The school department contributed part of the school parking lot, the Council appropriated funds for soil and construction materials and volunteers built the garden. Sixteen plots were built in 2011 and another sixteen are planned for 2012.

TREE PLANTING: At no cost to the city, I coordinated planting 28 trees at Edgewood Highland Elementary School, Cranston High School West, Ruggerio Park and Meshanticut State Park.

BUSINESS HOURS: When constituents complained that the council allowed Akid Dairy Mart to expand its hours without notifying neighbors, I proposed that businesses seeking longer hours must notify neighbors within 200 feet. The proposal passed and was used for the first time when Wal-Mart in western Cranston sought to open for 24 hours. The Council denied that request.

TREE TRIMMING: A Narragansett Boulevard resident complained that his street trees were badly pruned by Cox Cable and the city. We devised a proposal to require notice be posted whenever a street tree or a tree on city property is to be removed or trimmed. Citizens then may appeal to the city tree warden. The Council approved the proposal.

FOURTH STREET REPAVING: After a constituent brought to my attention that Fourth Street had only one layer of pavement and was falling apart, I raised the issue. The mayor was unaware of the problem, but after investigating, agreed to repave the street.

Looking toward 2012
In 2012, we need to do more. Our parks should be expanded to provide additional green space for biking, walking and other family activities. More trees should be planted to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Irene and, in a small way, temper the effects of global warming. Zoning reform is needed so that big corporations like Stop & Shop and CVS are not granted unnecessary variances which undermine the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Finally, our schools and libraries must be adequately funded.

I look forward to representing you in 2012.

Happy New Year,

Steve Stycos
Ward One City Councilman

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