Councilors continue to talk budget
Revaluation letters have gone out in the mail, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the Town Council Monday. On average, property values have increased by 6.6 percent, but it’s still premature to estimate the new tax rate, he said.
The council met for a final workshop to review the budget in the absence of Council President Kristine Trocki, who did not attend the workshop. Vice President Mary Meagher presided over the council.
Meagher and Councilors Gene Mihaly, Tom Tighe and Blake Dickinson agreed to put the spending package on the April 15 agenda for a possible vote. If necessary, the councilors will continue the budget debate to the April 22 session.
The original estimates about municipal spending and revenues have changed since the council started the budget workshops last month, Keiser said. Initially, he had projected a 0.7 percent tax levy increase to balance the budget. Now, he says, the increase will go up to 1 percent. According to Keiser, it is likely due to the loss of $50,000 that Gov. Lincoln Chafee had proposed to help municipalities pay for retirement plans.
Keiser said Jamestown’s state Rep. Deb Ruggiero had indicated the General Assembly might not approve the governor’s proposal. Keiser opted to be conservative and not to count the money as revenue.
Keiser said budget doubts weren’t contained to the municipal end of the budget. “There could be further adjustments on the school side,” he said.
School Superintendent Marcia Lukon had expressed uncertainty at the March 28 School Committee meeting about the impact of the federal sequester.
Keiser initially presented the council with a $21.7 million budget for the town and schools combined. At the time, he said, taxpayers It’son averageAll wouldAboutsee anFamilyannual property tax increase of $28 (based on a $400,000 home) if the budget were adopted for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
However, Keiser said the councilors have since discussed some changes to the original budget proposal.
Specifically, Dickinson wants to step up the road-paving program. Town Engineer Mike Gray had requested $325,000 to continue the “pay as you go” schedule of repairing roads. Dickinson suggested going out to bond at a cost of $600,000 in debt service to complete the entire North Road project this year, as well as do a couple of other priority road jobs. He said taking the bond would actually result in a savings to taxpayers over time. Keiser said the town would be borrowing on a 10-year note.
Residents Carol Nelson-Lee and Samira Hakki asked if the council would consider building a bike path along North Road when the paving job got underway.
Nelson-Lee said the town needed to look at alternative transportation and the bike path would help.
Gray said the Public Works Department would look into it, but indicated he anticipated problems because the right-of-way is too narrow.at The Seasons
“The right-of-way is challenging,” he said.
Gray added it may be possible to install a path along North Road from Americas Way south to have a bike lane for “those neighborhoods getting into town.” But, he said, there is an issue about drainage going north at the crest of hill. He suggested the more practical approach would be to improve the grass swales at the bottom of the hill.
Hakki asked if Gray would consider narrowing the lanes on North Road to make space for a bike path. Gray said he would look at all the options.
Dickinson said he doubted the road could be re-engineered but thought the ideal solution would be if the bikes and cars could share the road. Paving the road would make it as safe as possible, he said.
In other additions, Mihaly proposed taking a bond to undertake work at East Ferry. The job would include repairing the ferry slip. Debt service for that project would come to $400,000, Keiser said.
Mihaly said he wanted to add perhaps $25,000 to the job to include the services of a landscape architect. Meagher had suggested the landscaping. However, neither could say how much the landscaping would cost. Meagher suggested consulting with Gray and Town Planner Lisa Bryer for an accurate estimate of the architect’s services.
Mihaly said the prevailing 2.75 percent interest rates created opportunities for the town to take on projects like East Ferry.
Meagher also proposed adding $25,000 to the affordable housing budget. Real-estate values are “slightly depressed” in Jamestown, she said, and the town might have a chance to acquire property that could add to the affordable housing stock.
Meagher said all the changes appeared to be additions to the proposed budget.
Dickinson suggested cutting down the $325,000 expenditure for road repairs to $250,000 to cover the cost of debt for the bond, but Keiser said that would put the road repairs behind schedule.
Instead, Keiser suggested postponing the work to replace carpets at the Jamestown Philomenian Library and delaying the replacement of exterior doors at Town Hall.
Dickinson said he wanted to go over the budget numbers again.
Keiser said the School Department’s spending plan, which came in at $200,000 below last year, takes a lot of pressure off the municipal side.