An overview of the proposed Town budget
The 2010 Financial Town Meeting on June 7 is a call to residents to cast a vote on both expenditures for the town and the schools, as well as the tax levy needed to support operations, capital projects and debt service.
At recent FTMs, fewer than 150 of the 4,300 eligible residents turned out to act on the budget that sets the annual financial plan for the entire community. This year is shaping up to be quite different, however.
As provided in the Town Charter, five residents have exercised their right to submit advance warrants requesting changes to the Town Council-recommended budget by more than $10,000. This expressed interest in the outcome of the budget adoption process reflects healthy debate. It is also a demonstration of direct citizen involvement in budget decision-making, as promoted by the original Jamestown Charter.
A difficult economy makes taxing and spending decisions even more significant for the entire community. Consequently, it is in the interest of all Jamestowners to act on the budget that will shape the level of town and school services desired.
To assist residents, I would like to offer an overview of several of the larger budget issues under consideration.
Revenues and taxes
The Town Council and School Committee adopted budget will increase the amount of taxes raised by $554,403 – or, 3.2 percent more than the current year. The additional taxes are necessary to offset a loss of $604,000 in revenues from other sources. State funding for the town and schools will drop by $490,000, and school capital transfers and town investment earnings on cash reserves are down a combined $114,000. To partially address the decline in non-property tax revenue, total town and school expenditures are slated to decrease by $52,376 from the current fiscal year spending level.
The tax rate needed to support the recommended budget is $9.11 per thousand of assessed valuation. This $1 (12.3 percent) increase is due to the following factors:
• The town-wide property revaluation lowered the tax roll by 9.1 percent, from $2.1 billion to $1.94 billion. As a result, an upward tax rate adjustment by a proportionate amount – or, 74 cents per thousand – will maintain tax revenues equal to the current year.
• A $0.09 increase is directly attributable to both the loss of investment income and state aid to education funding.
• The state legislature’s action to eliminate aid to cities and towns through the state motor vehicle reimbursement program will require an additional 17 cents on the property tax rate to offset this revenue loss.
Due to shifts in the value of properties across the island, the impact of a $1 tax rate increase will be distributed unevenly. Approximately two-thirds of all properties have experienced a decline in value of 12.3 percent or more. Owners of these properties will realize no increase or a decrease in their 2010 tax bill. The remaining one-third of owners will see a rise in taxes to the extent that the new assessment is greater than a 12 percent reduction.
Since the recession began in the fall of 2008, the town and the schools have tried to adapt to the reality of diminished public and private resources. State support to Jamestown in this two-year period has fallen off by nearly $750,000. Residents and businesses have also suffered reduced or slow income growth that clearly hinders their ability to meet property tax obligations.
In response to the prolonged economic recession, we have taken steps to tighten our collective belts where possible. Measures already undertaken include:
• A two-year salary freeze for all non-union employees earning more than $50,000.
• The joining of a health insurance collaborative with 16 other towns and school districts to realize reduced premium costs.
• A line item review of the entire budget to reduce or flat-line expenditures, without compromising services.
Additional steps built into the 2011 budget include:
• Combining two part-time clerical positions to reduce total payroll hours.
• Cutting back a full-time clerk position to half-time, due to office consolidation.
• Re-organizing animal control services to share functions with North Kingstown and/ or reduce to part-time staffing. This proposal was made after a detailed review of the workload for this activity. We are pursuing other cost-saving options through contract negotiations with each of three labor unions. The outcome of these initiatives will not be known until the completion of collective bargaining.
As proposed, spending for town services in FY2011 will increase by $49,839 – or, less than one percent (0.7 percent). School operating expenditures will decline by 2.2 percent, largely due to lower enrollment at North Kingstown High School and fewer out-of-district special education placements.
Capital investments All residents – even kids and bicyclists – are acutely aware of the poor condition of many of our town roads. While past budgets have set aside funding to carve away at the long list of streets that need attention, we are falling further behind each year.
To alter that course, the recommended budget provides $250,000 in capital spending for road improvements. This is a $100,000 jump in one year and will establish a new baseline funding level for future years. We believe that increasing the slice of the budget pie for roads will enable the town to address this pressing need.
The capital plan also calls for a greater set-aside for the infrastructure at Ft. Getty. In need of replacement or major repairs are water supply and electrical distribution lines; wastewater collection systems; crumbling roads; the pavilion roof, dock and fishing pier; boat ramp; and restrooms. The goal is to improve safety and provide enhancements to encourage greater use. Total estimated cost for the needed upgrades will easily exceed $1 million and the set-aside for next year is proposed at a level of $150,000.
We have also budgeted $35,000 to purchase a new recreation and seniors van. These and other capital expenditures enable the town to offer adequate public facilities and to plan for the community’s future needs.
Both the Town Council and the School Committee have adopted responsible budgets that are designed to maintain services and are responsive to these tough economic times.
I urge all residents to weigh in on the community’s future by voting at the June 7 Financial Town Meeting.