News Feature | May 11, 2018

R.I. Lawmakers Consider Consolidation Bill

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

R.I. Lawmakers Consider Private Water Bill

The Rhode Island legislature is considering a proposal that would support the privatization of water.

“Bills have been introduced in the state House and Senate that would allow the acquisition of the Providence Water Supply Board by an outside entity, one of them the Narragansett Bay Commission,” The Providence Journal reported.

“Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza has publicly suggested a sale or lease of the Providence Water Supply Board’s assets as a way of raising hundreds of millions of dollars that could go toward paying down the city’s billion-dollar-plus retirement-benefit fund deficit,” the report said.

The city and the Narragansett Bay Commission have been in preliminary talks on this issue for a while, the report stated, citing the mayor’s acting chief of staff.

“Commission spokeswoman Jamie Samons said merging its operation and the water supply board has been a 25-year dream for NBC Chairman Vincent Mesolella. She agreed with Crowell’s characterization of the talks as preliminary,” the report stated.

The proposal has stirred up critics who say it is a bad deal for taxpayers. They argue that it is a ill-advised attempt to solve pension issues in the area, according to RINPR.

Steve Laffey, a former mayor of Cranston, RI, stated in an opinion piece in The Providence Journal: “Let me review why such a sale would be both illegal and immoral. For starters, the City of Providence does not own PW. It is owned by the ratepayers of Cranston, Johnston, North Providence and other Rhode Island communities (60 percent of the state’s taxpayers). This has been decided in court.”

“The commission is trying to steal the assets of 60 percent of Rhode Islanders by buying the PW,” he added, arguing that rates will go up if the deal is executed.

Supporters of consolidating water say there are efficiencies that arise when entities merge.

Image credit: "Faucet Drip 1," Eric Norris © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/