2015 has been a busy year in City Hall and for Providence. We are working hard every day to make sure residents are getting the very most out of their Government and finding ways to be more responsive to your needs and responsible with your tax dollars. As we approach the New Year, I want to share some of the big things that we have done in the past year. From being named America’s Coolest City earlier in the year, to our listing as a top city to found a startup a few weeks ago, the Creative Capital has taken a place in the national spotlight for all the right reasons. I look forward to continuing to set Providence up for success in the year ahead. — Mayor Jorge Elorza
Efficient City Services through Innovation
Making sure Providence is a city that works for all residents means being responsive, efficient, and helpful to everyone who seeks assistance. With my pledge to improve and make city government more efficient through innovation I proudly welcomed Nicole Pollock as the city’s first Chief Innovation Officer in January. A key component to delivering better services is the Mayor’s Center for City Services. The office has done an outstanding job resolving the issues and concerns that residents face. If you ever need assistance, want to request city services or have feedback for us call us a 421-CITY and see for yourself. This year we:
- Created the first ever Office of Innovation to streamline city processes, save money, and enhance the customer service experience.
- Eliminated a backlog of over 3,000 requests from constituents, and rebranded “the Mayor’s Center for City Services” to institute a customer service driven office and standard operating procedures for fielding inquiries.
- Established regular neighborhood office hours in neighborhoods across the City.
- Instituted LEAN government management processes across departments.
- Partnered with Amica Insurance and Local 1033 to create a customer service training program for city employees.
- Created a more inviting experience at City Hall by establishing a welcome kiosk to increase face to face interaction and adding wayfinding signage throughout the building to make the City’s main building of business easier to navigate.
Building the Economy of the Future
Providence has opportunities and resources that set it apart from most cities its size. We have top Universities, amazing culinary talent, access to water, air and rail traffic and the most significant cluster of developable land in the heart of downtown. This year my administration has made great progress in setting Providence up to lead in the economy of the future and create jobs here in Providence. We are positioned to harness our strengths and emerge as leaders in food, aqua and other emerging markets. We are also taking steps to revitalize all of our neighborhoods and make sure that we are getting the most out of every square mile of our city. This year we:
- Created the “EveryHome” initiative with a goal to make Providence a leader in the nation to address vacant and abandoned properties and increase home values in neighborhoods.
- Hired a new Economic Development Director, Mark Huang.
- Budgeted for and hired a business concierge to serve as an advocate for new developers and business owners in the City.
- Worked with Council Leadership and State House leadership to pass an administrative, predictable TSA process for the I-195 Land and Capital Center.
- Worked with Council to pass an administrative TSA process for neighborhood revitalization and development.
- Created the first Providence International Arts Festival, which will be an annual boost to tourism for the city.
Fiscally Responsible Leadership
The Administration’s first budget was fiscally responsible and realistic. It reduced the dependence on one-time-fixes and did not raise taxes. Providence still faces significant financial challenges but my Administration is committed to putting in the work and making decisions that will put the city on a sound financial path forward. This year we:
- Held the line on property taxes and car taxes.
- Added revenue through retrofitting parking meters to accept credit cards.
- City made earliest complete payment of retirement obligations in recent history, avoiding carried interest costs.
- Refunded a number of bonds to take advantage of favorable interest rates, saving millions in FY 2015 and FY 2016 without extending the term.
- Won National Resource Network grant for funding to explore city finances over the next decade and explore long-term budgeting options.
- Increased the city’s snow removal budget and street sweeping budget to better prepare for the impact of global climate change.
- Negotiated contracts with our city teacher’s union and most city employees that control costs while creating innovative new approaches to better serve the public.
Improving Providence Public Schools
Building a school department that offers our children the skills and knowledge they need to succeed now and in the future is a critical priority. Upon taking office, I signaled that my administration would empower our teachers and principals. That means decentralizing an administrative central office that was designed to meet the needs of a past generation, and bringing those resources in to our schools and classrooms. This also means giving our principals more autonomy over how their schools are run. The transformation of our central offices is already underway and more is yet to come. We have:
- A $1.6 million Turnaround School Leadership Grant was awarded to Center for Leadership for Educational Equity.
- Taking steps to develop future principals through fellowships in the Principal Residency Network.
- Awarded grant from RIDE to provide training in common core mathematics standards to teachers in grades 3-5.
- Improved “Opening of Schools” process for SY 2014-15 that included the re-opening of the West Broadway Middle School.
- Purchased a new fleet of busses.
- Held a successful student choice process (lottery) where 80+% of all students were placed in their 1st or 2nd choice school.
- Lowered the walking radius to 2 miles by providing bus passes for students who live beyond two miles from their school.
- A Summer Learning Task Force and a Career and Technical Education Task Force were established.
- Partnered with community organizationss to offer the Police After School Sports (PASS) program.
- Developed a garden-based science curriculum for elementary students together with the City’s Office of Healthy communities and provided support and materials to four elementary school gardens.
Making Every Community Safe and Secure
We must do whatever we can to ensure the safety of our residents and those who decide to visit our great city. Along with a diverse police academy, I have taken several steps to address crime in the city. My administration has also taken steps to increase community policing programs that build relationships between members of the community and the Police Department. This year my Administration:
- Issued an executive order to form an Advisory Council to Reduce Gun Violence to help address illegal guns and gun violence.
- Joined leaders from throughout the region to discuss and share strategies at the 2015 New England Gun Violence Summit.
- We conducted a successful “Operation Backpage” which arrested dozens of criminals soliciting prostitution and trafficking through Backpage.com.
- Brought back a Midnight Basketball program which provides a healthy opportunity for young residents to engage in friendly competition and stay occupied on those hot summer nights.
- Partnered with community orgganizations to offer the Police After School Sports (PASS) program.
- Moved Fire Department to a 3 platoon system. A move that, when staffed properly, will save the City millions in overtime costs and bring our fire department in line with best practices from across the country.
- Designated a point person to coordinate and establish neighborhood crime watch groups.
- Major sweep throughout the city in conjunction with State Police, DEA, FBI. Resulted in numerous arrests and confiscated many guns.
Healthy, Vibrant and Sustainable
My administration has taken several steps to make sure Providence can become one of the healthiest, most sustainable and culturally vibrant cities the country. In an effort to provide our residents plenty of opportunities to stay active we offered an extended summer recreation program and followed it up with our first ever fall recreation program. We also launched a new marquee summer event in the Providence International Arts Festival. With the success of this first extravaganza I am thrilled about this upcoming summer’s festival and all the new additions which are sure to make it yet another memorable weekend. It’s important that we love up to our name as ‘America’s Coolest City’! This year we:
- Convened more than 100,000 people in the heart of the Creative Capital for our magnificent International Arts Festival.
- Led by our local world-class talent as well as renowned artists and performers from around the world, the festival showcased the unique and dazzling music, arts, and even cuisine scenes of Providence The city offered a well-received Winter Swim program which began back in November and will last through early 2016.
- Residents are invited to come running with me every Sunday at RWP casino and join for monthly Bike the Night events.
- Expanded our summer meals program which provides healthy food and an opportunity to play to students in Providence when school is not in session.
- Helped enroll more than 800 Providence residents in health insurance and connected thousands more with information on how to get or maintain their coverage.
- Built a Lots of Hope greenhouse on formerly vacant city land on Prairie Avenue and leased the space to community partners that will engage nearby schools.
- Received a $5 million grant from the RI Foundation for improvements at Roger Williams Park.
- Launched SustainPVD, a community-wide sustainability initiative to make Providence a greener, healthier, more livable city.
- A neighborhood ambassador program was established to promote recycling and other healthy environmental options.
- I had a no-cost home energy audit and encourage all residents to do the same.
- The city divested from the Filthy 15 coal companies with the biggest carbon footprint.