2015-08-13 / Opinion

Numbers, Not Just Names, Make News


There is an old saying in the newspaper business that “names make news.” You make the high school honor roll, your name might get in the paper. You get elected to the City Council, your name will surely be in the paper a lot. Hit a homer in a ball game, your name makes the news. Charged with a crime? Depending on the severity of the alleged offense, your name may well wind up in a newspaper.

Like it or not, names, as they say, make news.

These days, though, numbers seem to be giving names a run for it when it comes to newsworthiness.

This week, for example, Newport This Week begins what we hope will be an “occasional” series in which we take a line item number out of the gigantic City of Newport budget book and give it a closer look.

In this issue, for the first story in this occasional series, we chose to look at figures for the 2014 city budget (the most recent for which completed fiscal year figures were published) concerning annual spending for fuel and maintenance for the 174 vehicles, large and small, that comprise the city of Newport’s motor fleet.

Keep in mind, we did not select a particular set of numbers with a suspicious eye. In fact, our interviews with city officials about vehicle fuel and maintenance costs did not suggest anything to be outraged about. Rather, we looked at the numbers (there they are again), talked with appropriate officials, and published their comments.

We plan to do that “occasionally” as time goes by.

Meanwhile, numbers do keep cropping up.

In our story today about the stirrings that may lead to major improvements at the city’s 27-year-old Gateway Center on America’s Cup Avenue, we report that an initial proposal to merely repair major hurricane damage to the canvas “roof” of the center’s waiting area for $1.6 million could grow to between $6 million and $7 million. That would buy a new, permanent roof and other improvements.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. And, the way Newport streets are laid out, the Gateway Center is, for many first-time visitors, the first significant city landmark that they see.

So let’s get this right—especially since the federal government seems poised to pay 90 percent of the costs, with the city picking up just 10 percent of the tab. In numbers, that’s $600,000 for Newport at the lower end, $5,400,000 for the federal government.

On these numbers, we agree with Mayor Napolitano, who said, “It’s hard to walk away from 90 percent funding.”

Difficult, indeed.

Finally, sometimes the lack of numbers—or, in this case, the lack of enough money—results in outcomes that make no one happy. We’re talking about last year’s ill-fated effort to locate a winter ice rink at the Gateway Center’s parking lot after the sale of its former site at the Newport Yachting Center. Recall that a “one-year-hiatus” for the rink was declared after a fundraising effort. It was said that $100,000 was needed but that only $60,000 had been pledged. And, electrical power upgrades were needed there.

We wonder where the ice rink’s electrical upgrades and fundraising figure into all of this new Gateway Center chatter. Somewhere, we hope. Editor’s Note: Last week in this space we editorialized about the plight of a woman as she struggled to navigate her wheelchair between a tree stump and, as we phrased it, a gaggle of sidewalk diners.

In our quest for sidewalks that provide more room for everyone we returned to the site this week to find a construction cone atop the tree stump (see photo below).

A small sign of progress? We can only hope.

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