RIPTA Board OKs New Contract for CEO; Takes No Action on Funding Resolution
May 22, 2023
PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority Board approved a two-year contract for current CEO Scott Avedisian at its meeting Wednesday, but did not take action on a resolution that has lingered in the draft stage since March that calls for fully funding the agency.
The board voted on Avedisian’s contract in a closed, executive session. The former Warwick mayor has run the authority since 2018. Avedisian’s extension comes with a 2% raise (consistent with the recent raise for bus drivers) to make his salary $181,795.82 annually.
Earlier this year, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, called for Avedisian to step down and for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to take over the agency. RIDOT director Peter Alviti sits on RIPTA’s board but was not present for the Wednesday meeting and did not vote on Avedisian’s contract.
Avedisian must guide the authority away from a looming fiscal cliff in 2025, when RIPTA will run out of the federal COVID funding that has helped keep it afloat.
At the May 17 meeting, RIPTA chief financial officer Chris Durand gave a presentation on the authority’s fiscal history, explaining what has led it to a potential $30 million cliff.
Durand showed, going back more than 20 years, how revenue has lagged behind spending. The General Assembly often stepped in and funded RIPTA to avoid a deficit, he said, but there has not been enough funding provided to allow the agency to follow healthy financial practices.
COVID funding from the federal government allowed RIPTA to start acting proactively, promoting “better decisions” and “better results,” he said.
Durand also noted that Rhode Island spends much less on transportation per capita than its peers. For example, Delaware spends more than $100 per capita on transportation, while Rhode Island spends $18.51.
“If we are on par [with other states], it would pretty much cover our deficit,” he said.
Board members expressed satisfaction with the presentation, after some had asked for more details on RIPTA’s financial situation and others had criticized draft resolutions asking the Legislature and the governor to be fully funded for a lack of specificity.
The funding resolution was brought before the board again Wednesday, after being presented at the two previous monthly board meetings, not for a vote but for a discussion.
“I think we kinda went down a rabbit hole with this thing,” board chairman Normand Benoit said. “I think every board member thinks we need to be fully funded.”
“I just don’t know if we are at the point, say, where we want ‘X amount of money today,’ and then we find ourselves six months from now … at not the right number,” he added.
“I would just be concerned that it’s getting very late in the session,” RIPTA board member Michelle Wilcox said, referring to the legislative session. “I am not sure that anything happening now is going to get any attention.”
The next RIPTA board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 21.
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