Five Questions With: Brian Silvia

Brian Silvia is treasurer of the city of Warwick, and he will be moving in July to the position of finance director for the town of Coventry. Before taking the position in Warwick about a year and a half ago, he served for four years as finance director for the town of Cumberland, and before as finance director for the town of West Warwick and the town of North Smithfield. A Rhode Island native, he graduated from Rhode Island College in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

PBN: You’re becoming the finance director for Coventry. Is that a different role than being city treasurer (your current job for Warwick)? How so?

SILVIA: The two jobs have similar functions, but in Warwick the treasurer’s office is a division within the finance department; I don’t prepare or present a budget. In Coventry, I will be preparing a budget. Creating a budget is a big process; you are working with departments’ requests, you are working with administration’s goals and needs, you are presenting it to [the town] council. It takes diplomacy to present the numbers, suggest trade-offs and stay neutral.

PBN: Does Coventry have different financial challenges than Warwick? What are they?

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SILVIA: Coventry has an issue now with its sewer enterprise fund, which is in a deficit status. An enterprise fund is separate from the town [finances] and is paid for by the users. They have a very small proportion of the population paying this cost and it is substantial. They have brought in an auditor and auditor general. If the town bailed out the sewer enterprise fund – which is the wrong wording; the balance sheet actually shows that the loan is “due to” the general fund – the sewer fund would have to create a payback strategy. I went through the experience in the town of Cumberland with the water enterprise fund.

PBN: Warwick Mayor Joseph J. Solomon made reference in the release announcing the change that you were looking for “new professional challenges and opportunities for quite some time.” What are they and will you find them in Coventry?

SILVIA: I prefer being finance director because I like being part of the budget process. I enjoying building and defending the budget, taking everyone’s questions and being able to answer the questions. I walk into budget meetings with a massive binder. I enjoy answering the questions asked of me.

PBN: Based on the recent R.I Public Finance Management Board Debt Affordability Study, Coventry’s debt and debt-plus pension ratios to assessed property value and personal income are worse than those in Warwick. How will you deal with them?

SILVIA: Property values are not enough [to easily support] the general obligation debt. I cannot fix that; I can only present the information. I will be working on a strategy but it will not be an overnight fix. [The solution] will have to be over a period of years.

PBN: Recent months have brought changes in leadership in Coventry town government, such as the departures of the town manager and your predecessor in the finance director position. Three state legislators have called for the chairman of the Coventry Fire District to resign. Do you see this as a moment for a fresh start by town government to tackle lingering problems?

SILVIA: I have spoken to the department heads and the interim town manager and I am satisfied with the leadership of the town. The town’s [information technology] director has been interim town manager for a while, and he is very knowledgeable.

Normally when I get to a new position, I like to get to know the ordinances and the town charter. This dictates how expenditures are done and how taxes are collected. I will be getting to know the workload, the employees and how the department operates. We have to do an audit and submit it by Dec. 31. It is a comprehensive document, so I will learn a lot in that process.

Mary Lhowe is a PBN contributing writer.