Governor weighs in on State Police issue
The Town Council received an update from lobbyist Rick McAuliffe of the Mayforth Group on the “Mexican standoff” between the town and the Rhode Island
State Police on Friday, April 29. The State Police are currently requesting $45,000 for the summer season, to provide two officers on weekends. Four of the five council members don’t think the town should have to pay it.
Unfortunately, according to McAuliffe, the governor does not have the island’s back. McAuliffe said he met with Governor McKee, and explained the town’s position on not paying for the troopers. McAuliffe said that despite the acknowledgement of the presence of state-owned roads on the island, McKee said he would support the position of the State Police. The governor wants the island and the State Police to find a solution for the issue going forward, according to McAuliffe.
He said that there is a projected budget surplus at the state level, but that the town will not know if the governor will use any of that money to cover the State Police cost until June or July, and the money would not be allocated until August.
McAuliffe said that his goal was to “put options on the table,” and to that end, he proposed a meeting between the governor and the Town Council. He said it was “abundantly clear” that both sides needed to sit down and listen to each other.
First Warden André Boudreau reiterated his position that the town should plan for having to pay for the State Police presence this summer, since the town has been told by “everybody” that this will be the case.
“We’re just going to get told ‘no’ again,” Boudreau said.
Council Member Keith Stover called it “intellectually dishonest” for the State Police to say they have no staff unless they are paid more. He compared it to “ordering steak at a restaurant,” and being told the restaurant is sold out of steak...unless you pay extra.
After disparaging the food analogy, Boudreau claimed that the issue had been “going on since last year” and the council was only informed in February, “at the last hour,” when it was too late to find money to pay for it. He said this was the “root” of the problem.
Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said she had heard last June that this might happen, but only received written notice from the State Police in February, after her continued requests for clarification from the state.
Boudreau also said it would cost the island more if it had to fund a larger police force so that the town did not need State Police aid.
Bill McCombe spoke from the audience and reminded the council that this was the third time in his memory that the State Police have asked for money from Block Island. He said the town has historically had a good relationship with the State Police, and suggested there could be other options than the “all or nothing” position being discussed. He suggested that if the State Police are worried about having to pay so much overtime for the troopers staying overnight, perhaps they could just come out for the day and return home at night.
McCombe also suggested that Boudreau was “undermining the position of the council.” Boudreau is the only member of the council advocating for paying the State Police.
David Lewis spoke from the audience, and suggested that perhaps this was not a fight the town should be engaging in. He said that for the first half of the council meeting on April 29, McAuliffe had talked about all the progress he was making at the legislative level on the town’s behalf, laying groundwork for future town endeavors and state aid.
During his opening presentation to the council on April 29, McAuliffe had mentioned potential money for broadband, affordable housing, and infrastructure, as
well as the new fire barn, and meetings he has had with Senators Reed and Whitehouse on federal appropriations. McAuliffe also spoke about positioning the town to be in line when state dollars are released, “getting ahead of it” by laying the groundwork to demonstrate the needs on the island to the powers that be in Providence.
“Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish,” Lewis told the council. “We’re asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars for other necessary things for the island.”
At the Financial Town Meeting on May 2, where voters approved the budget for fiscal year 2023 which begins July 1, no additional money was allocated for paying the State Police to patrol the state roads.