Ron Becker, Alliance for a Livable Newport President elected Chairman of Finance Review Committee

NEWPORT- Finance Review Committee to start work

By Sean Flynn – Staff writer

Seven Newport residents with extensive experience in private business will be reviewing the city budget to determine ways of cutting expenses and increasing revenues.

The members of the new Finance Review Committee were sworn by City Clerk Kathleen Silvia Thursday night at the Newport Public Library, and welcomed to the tasks ahead by Mayor Harry Winthrop.

When the City Council gave initial approval to a city budget in June, the council members voted unanimously to form a committee to study items such as the high cost of pensions and health care for city employees that are built into the budget.

Earlier in the year, the council passed a resolution calling on the city administration to identify “any and all nonprofit entities” that “may be able to assist in generating city revenue through participation in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) or PILOT-type programs.”

That task also has been assigned to the Finance Review Committee.

Winthrop said Thursday the committee members could look at the formula that provides state aid to communities in the form of PILOT funding to cover part of the property taxes lost because the property is held by a taxexempt organization. Perhaps that funding could be increased, he said.

“We would have to ask the General Assembly for enabling legislation,” the mayor said.

Cruise ships pay the city a fee of $6 per passenger onboard when they visit Newport, Winthrop said. On the other hand, 1,200 buses visit the city in September and October and don’t pay any fees to the city, he said.

“Is there any way to collect fees from them?” he asked. “We don’t want you to stay away from anything. You don’t have any political fallout to worry about.”

Ron Becker Alliance for a Livable Newport
Ron Becker

The committee members elected Ron Becker as the chairman. He was a senior officer for Met Life and had spent 35 years in the insurance industry before retiring. He is currently president of the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group.

“If we suggest new revenues, someone is going to have pay them,” Becker said. “Expense cuts we recommend could affect people’s jobs or the services they receive. No matter what we decide, we are not going to come out of this as friends to the world.”

The council has asked for a final report and recommendations from the committee by May. Becker said the recommendations could include short-term budget adjustments as well as long-term goals.

John Flores, CEO of Drupal Connect, a website design and development firm on Thames Street, was elected vice chairman of the committee.

“I’m passionate about research,” he said.

Louisa Boatwright, who worked for a large financial institution in the Boston area before moving to Newport, will serve as secretary of the committee. She has been active in the Newport Public Education Foundation.

Hank Kniskern, a former manager at AT&T and Bell Labs and former instructor at the Naval War College, also is on the committee. He is currently an adjunct professor at the Roger Williams University business school and chaired the city’s Waterfront Commission for seven years.

Other committee members include: David Bazarsky, an attorney and owner of real estate in the area; Ken Nomiyama, a former manager for UBS Bank and Chase; and Bill Rauch, a former chief financial officer for retail companies.

Bazarsky said he would like to take a closer look at union contracts, school expenses and possibilities for regionalization in the coming months.

City Finance Director Laura Sitrin and city budget analyst Elizabeth Sceppa will be working closely with the committee. They agreed to provide the members with copies of the city budget and the council’s strategic plan later today.

The committee members plan to review the budget in the coming week and select sections for closer review.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place at the Newport Public Library on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m.

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