SMITHFIELD - Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley will meet in coming weeks with the town of Smithfield to negotiate an agreement that would address a new law concerning payment for public safety services, while simultaneously reviewing options that include legal action.
Late Thursday, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed a bill that would require the school and town to negotiate a pact regarding payment for police, fire and rescue services. If no agreement were reached by March 1, 2014, the university would be required to reimburse the town for such services.
In a statement emailed late Thursday, Machtley expressed disappointment with Chafee’s rebuttal of the university’s appeal for a veto.
“We continue to believe this legislation is unconstitutional, unwarranted, and needlessly divisive,” Machtley wrote. “We will meet with the town in the hope that amicable and fair agreements can be reached to avoid expensive and time consuming litigation. However, the university will now undertake a review and consider all of its options, including litigation, until this matter is satisfactorily resolved.”
He declined to elaborate this morning.
The next scheduled meeting of the Smithfield Town Council is Aug. 6, and a revised memorandum of agreement is on the agenda, town officials said.
Lawmakers who supported the bill said Thursday after it was signed into law that they are relieved to have “leverage” in place because they feel the university president has not sufficiently reached out to the town to date.
“All this bill does is give plenty of time for negotiations,” said state Rep. Thomas Winfield, a democrat and one of the bill’s proponents. “And if Ron Machtley continues as he’s done in the past (to) walk away, it gives the town an avenue to address some of the public safety services Smithfield provides.”
Machtley has said publicly that the university pumps more than $17 million into the local economy, and contributes $800,000 to Smithfield annually in direct and in-kind support, more than $300,000 of which he described as “voluntary.” Lawmakers in the Smithfield delegation and town officials say that other Rhode Island colleges make more substantial cash contributions and that Bryant should do the same.
Coming up with as much as $350,000 annually could only be done at the expense of students by charging higher tuition, since tuition represents 89 percent of the university’s revenue, Machtley has said.