City Council gives final approval to $10M reparations budget

THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL gave the second and final approval on Wednesday to a $10 million spending plan for racial reparations. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

PROVIDENCE – A two-yearslong effort to bring racial reparations to Providence achieved a milestone Wednesday, with the City Council approving a $10 million budget aimed at closing the racial wealth gap.

The council’s 10-1 vote was the second of two votes needed to finalize the line-item budget first unveiled by Mayor Jorge O. Elorza in August. It also represents the final piece of the three-part reparations initiative Elorza began in 2020. 

“We are creating … generational wealth,” said Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris. “I am very proud of this.”

Councilman Nicholas Narducci cast the sole vote against the spending plan.

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The approved funding largely mirrors recommendations set forth by a city panel based on community input, but with one major change that shifts some money into a COVID-19 Equity Fund to be managed by United Way of Rhode Island Inc.

The $1.75 million COVID fund is the largest single-item allocation within the budget, followed by $1.5 million to help small-business owners start or expand their operations. The spending plan also sets aside $1 million apiece for a homeownership and financial literacy program, paid workforce training, and to expand African heritage and Indigenous-owned media firms.

The spending plan plan does not include any direct payments to descendants of slaves, despite that being traditionally associated with racial reparations. The programs also aren’t exclusively for Black and Indigenous people, with people with low incomes and those who live in certain neighborhoods, regardless of race, also able to benefit because of federal mandates around the stimulus money that is being used to fund the initiative.

Also on Wednesday, the council introduced a proposal to add another 30 years to its tax agreement with the owners of the city’s industrial port. Under the existing tax exemption agreement, ProvPort Inc. shares a portion of its gross revenue with the city instead of paying real estate taxes on the 115 acres of waterfront, industrial land. The existing 20-year tax deal is set to end in 2024, but the new agreement would add another 30 years, with a similar revenue-sharing mechanism under which the city gets 7% of the annual revenue.

The additional 30-year tax discount coincides with plans to extend the lease agreement for the land and add another $20 million in capital improvements, according to a separate resolution also introduced Wednesday.

ProvPort, a holding company, bought the land for $16.4 million in 1994 but has since leased it to the city-controlled Providence Redevelopment Agency, which in turn issues tax-free bonds to pay the city and then sublease the land back to ProvPort. The new lease agreement allows the PRA to issue another $20 million in bonds for capital projects, according to the ordinance.

A spokesperson for the City Council referred all questions about the tax treaty and lease agreement to Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s office, which did not respond to questions by email on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Waterson Terminal Services, which manages port operations for ProvPort, also did not return multiple inquiries for comment. 

Both the lease agreement and tax treaty were immediately referred to the finance committee for further review and discussion.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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