Keiser proposes 2.5 percent increase for upcoming budget
A proposal to enhance Jamestown’s Emergency Medical Services will not be supported by the Jamestown Town Council for the upcoming fiscal year, councilors indicated during their special meeting Tuesday on the capitalimprovement budget proposed for fiscal year 2011-12.
The combined budget for the town and schools proposed by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser is $21.2 million, an increase of $514,214 – or 2.5 percent – over the budget for the current fiscal year. The proposed capitalimprovement budget on the town side is $967,883 – significantly less than the $1.95 million requested by individual department heads.
Keiser’s proposed capital budget includes an expansion of JEMS basic life support capabilities to a level regarded as advanced life support. Keiser told the councilors that Jamestown and Block Island are the only two Rhode Island towns without an advanced level of pre-hospital care.
Keiser also noted that JEMS and Jamestown Fire Department personnel have indicated support for advanced capabilities. However, during the lengthy discussion, it became clear that the councilors generally feel that the required investment and its potential benefits are too difficult to evaluate in time to fund the expansion for the upcoming fiscal year.
Although the advanced life support expansion is included in the capital-budget proposal, one of the expected expenditures – $80,000 for a full-time supervisor – is not among the proposed line items. If the salary for this position were included, the total cost for enhancements, including training and wages for licensed cardiac responders working 24/7, would be $210,200.
Keiser said that this expenditure would work out to an additional 10 cents in the property tax rate.
He also pointed out that a report from Municipal Services Incorporation, which had been contracted to evaluate the basic services provided by JEMS, had arrived that same day. The report will be available to the public once it is formally accepted by the Council, which will not meet again until April 4, a month before the Council votes on the town and school budgets that will be presented to Jamestown voters at the Financial Town Meeting.
Although the report will inform the advanced life support debate, Keiser said it was far from certain if an expansion would “absolutely guarantee that a person having a stroke or a cardiac emergency would fare better. I haven’t been able to get a conclusive answer to that question.”
Councilor Mike White said it was his opinion that “initiating ALS and [simultaneously] fixing BLS [problems] would not be fruitful.” Councilor Bill Murphy pointed out that “there isn’t any plan for how we would implement [an expansion] by July 1, or even during the [ensuing fiscal] year. So, I’m not saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’m saying that this is a decision that has to be made over a period of time.”
Councilor Ellen Winsor said that the Council should seek comments on the report from all stakeholders, including JEMS, the fire department, the police department and the community.
“There’s a lot of similar thinking among various groups, and some groups may want to add facts.” Winsor also said that she had wanted the report to evaluate JEMS coordination with the fire and police departments, adding that “they do provide some hints regarding a comprehensive approach [to emergency medical response].”
Although Councilor Bob Bowen described the timing of the fi- nal JEMS report as “unfortunate,” he expressed support for a hybrid approach to the advanced proposal.
“I’d be interested in getting BLS, along with communications among the departments, working well – and then going part of the way towards [launching] ALS by bringing in someone to help us determine if it’s suitable. So, instead of jumping in with both feet and spending $210,000, we could spend a lesser amount [to hire someone who would guide the town towards ALS implementation].”
Council President Mike Schnack took the position that the Council needs “time to digest this report and fix [existing] problems. It would not be worthwhile to put ALS in this budget. Keeping budgets stable as we work on the issues is the best approach. I don’t see the need to spend $210,000 or $100,000 [on advanced life support] in this budget. We can use that money to keep taxes lower and I am in favor of taking it out [of the budget proposal].”
Another proposed capital expenditure sparking significant discussion was road repaving, for which Keiser has proposed an outlay of $276,000. The amount is only about half of the repaving expenditure in fiscal year 2010- 11, but last year’s expenditure included a grant of $319,000 in federal stimulus money, which enabled the town to repave about two miles of its roads.
Bowen noted that it might be worth drawing an additional $150,000 out of the undesignated fund balance – which is currently well above the minimum level mandated by state law – for additional repaving in anticipation of potential increases in the cost of asphalt. While there wasn’t any consensus on the suggestion, the councilors are well aware that Jamestown has many pressing road-repair needs.
Town Engineer Mike Gray noted that Jamestown has 46 miles of municipally owned roads and that 7 percent of them “are failed roads.” Gray added that it would cost about $2 million “to bring all of our roads up to an acceptable standard.”
A few other aspects of the proposed capital-improvement budget, and some comments on the line items, include the following:
• Keiser has proposed to “take a year off” from the town’s annual allocation of $50,000 to the Affordable Housing Fund, “given the demands on the capital budget.” Bowen said, “We might want to think about that because we’ll just have to add more money in subsequent years.” Murphy advised looking for savings that might enable the town to allocate at least a portion of the $50,000.
• The proposed, one-time $21,000 expenditure for “wireless technology” would set up communications among five town buildings and eliminate $19,000 in Cox Communications expenses.
• Although there isn’t any money in the administrator’s line item for “fire department roof repair,” Keiser said that this repair is a priority and that $40,000 for this work would be drawn from the undesignated reserve fund.
• Regarding the East Ferry seawall repair, which would cost $150,000 for a total replacement, the administrator’s line item is empty because, said Gray, “we are still debating” the merits of a total replacement. He added, “I think we can just repair the [damage] without taking on the larger project.”
• The line item for upgrading the recreation center heating system, which is expected to cost $100,000, is empty because Keiser is proposing to draw that funding out of the undesignated reserve fund.
• The proposed $50,000 allocation for the Ft. Getty Capital Reserve Fund has been held below the $150,000 level of fiscal year 2010-11 because Keiser is waiting to see what additional costs the town may incur to rebuild the pavilion after applying the reimbursement from the town’s insurance provider.
• The $250,000 line item requested by the fire chief for a three-bay firehouse on North Road is blank in the administrator’s request because, Keiser said, “the North Road fire station is desirable but not an immediate need.”
• The $20,000 line item for the engineering study necessary to lay out the proposed Jamestown bike path prompted resident Bucky Brennan to argue against the project because, he said, the path “will die from a thousand [paper] cuts. Bikers won’t use it because most cyclists don’t want to ride on crooked paths, and it will have to be plowed and sanded [frequently] during the winter.”
Schnack replied that the path “is intended mainly for kids and families to get downtown at a [leisurely] pace. It’s not intended for bike racers.”
The Jamestown Town Council meets again on April 4 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.