Town Council aims for 0-percent tax increase
Parents and teachers who turned out for the Town Council meeting Monday night wanted to hear Town Administrator Bruce Keiser explain how his 0-percent tax increase would avoid cutting services and programs and plan for successful future budgets once stimulus funds run out.
Keiser said that in order to achieve the 0-percent tax increase, $100,000 of increased spending proposed in next year's school budget would have to be cut. He said he has been working with Jamestown schools Superintendent
Marcia Lukon to identify cutting back spending in administrative areas and benefit costs.
Town department heads who earn more than $50,000 and not covered by unions will see their salaries freeze in the 2009/2010 fiscal year in order to cut operating costs. Keiser said he discussed with Lukon a similar approach by the school. Keiser added that a 0-percent tax increase is not equivalent with a 0-percent budget increase, some reductions and revenues will be used to balance fixed budget increases.
"We're still kind of up in the air (with the town's budget)," Keiser said. "But if the governor's budget gets approved, Jamestown schools will receive the same amount of money next year as they do in the current year." The town's proposed budget will not need to be changed to stay in balance if the state budget is approved by the General Assembly.
Governor Carcieri proposed a $7.6 billion state budget, but it relies heavily on federal stimulus funds and the state house and Rhode Island mayors are worried this will create problems in a few once the stimulus money is gone. Keiser said several mayors are challenging the legality of Carcieri's use of federal stimulus money.
Looking at the long term and planning for the future after federal stimulus money is gone, Keiser said successful budgets will be realistic if the town evaluates personnel costs, specifically health benefit expenditures. He said new legislation could require a fixed percentage co-pay for health insurance to all state employees.
The next budget workshop will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 30, to review and discuss the town's operating budget for the fiscal year of 2009/2010. On Tuesday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m. there will be another budget work session for the council and public to review and discuss the school's proposed budget.
Several teachers and parents, representing the Lawn School Improvement Team and the Jamestown Education Foundation, voiced their appreciation for the town council's past support of Jamestown schools and asked them to approve the 2009/2010 school budget as it stands. They were especially concerned about possible cuts to student services or programs.
"I don't consider these programs expendable," said Maureen Ryall, a pediatrician and parent to Jamestown school students. "The arts and foreign language are a must."
Well Sampling Survey
Keiser and Town Engineer Michael Gray met with the state Department of Environmental Management on March 13 for follow up discussion regarding a well sampling survey in the Jamestown Shores area.
They hope to gain insight into the long-term sustainability of ground water in the area by comparing results from a similar survey they conducted in 1997 with the data they plan to collect. If water quality degradation is evident, they will then look into mitigating with more water restrictions.
Keiser said there is money available through DEM to collect the well water samples.
Ft. Getty Master Plan
Currently the town awaits communication with the Coastal Resources Management Council on how to continue renovation plans at Ft. Getty with minimal additional intrusion in the Sheffield Cove area.
The Conservation Commission and the Audubon Society have expressed opposition to the proposed dredging.
FAST Sailing Lease
Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero prepared a draft lease between the town and the FAST Sailing Foundation for the development and operation of a sailing center at Ft. Getty.
FAST will cover all construction costs to the building and to transfer of ownership to the town. The town will have full use of the facility during July and August and the winter months for recreational activities. FAST has priority use from March through June and September to November, but the town will be able to use the facility during the week and whenever it isn't in use by the sailing school
The proposed site for the building covers a large land area at Ft. Getty and would not displace any campers or affect any current boating activity.
"This is a huge area for the town to be giving up," Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski said. "We need more information about how much land it is, what their plans are for that size of property and what kind of restrictions will apply if we're giving up this area for 10 years."
Councilwoman Szepatowski said the town needs to make a decision on how to handle the building next to the fire station. She said the last tenants rented through affordable housing and people were already calling about it.
"It makes a ton of sense to continue to use it as affordable housing," Council President Julio Di- Giando said. He added they would consider the issue at a later date.
The council adopted a resolution proclaiming April as Fair Housing Month. Under the policy, the town must implement programs for equal opportunity in housing.
Stimulus funding for green
The DEM requested all Rhode Island towns and cities submit a list of potential green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency, or other environmentally innovative projects for access to money awarded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus Bill).
Eligible projects must be scheduled to start construction before Feb. 17, 2010, and the cost must exceed $300,000.
Keiser said he doesn't think there are any immediate projects that can make use of these funds.
Permits and petitions
The council approved a one-day peddler permit for Lisa Kasabian and Nordic Design at the Portuguese Citizen's Club on Narragansett Avenue on March 22 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
The council voted and approved a petition for Verizon Communications and the Narragansett Electric Company to relocate one joint pole by 24 feet on Elm Street in order to provide service to a new home.