Voters get ready for Financial Town Meeting Monday night
Thanks to nearly $300,000 of savings on the School Department’s side of the budget, the proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year calls for a surge in capital improvements with no increase to the tax levy.
Registered islanders will be asked to approve the combined $21,717,582 budget at Monday’s Financial Town Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lawn Avenue School. According to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, the zero percent tax increase results from fewer kids attending North Kingstown High School in September and a “wise use” of money from the undesignated fund.
“The dynamics of the school budget enabled the town to make capital investments and at the same time flatline the tax rate,” said Keiser. “Also, the Town Council elected to draw $212,000 from the undesignated fund to offset increases to the tax rate. It was a wise use of funds.”
For fiscal year 2013-14, Dr. Marcia Lukon and the School Committee have proposed an operating budget of $11,638,648 for the schools. That number is $285,139 less than the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. After capital investments and debt service is factored, the schools total budget is $11,988,502, with a balance of $11.28 million following expected revenues.
On the municipal side, the Town Council approved a proposed spending plan of $9,729,080. That includes $763,000 in debt service and more than $1.25 million in capital improvements. The expected revenue in the upcoming fiscal year for the town is just over $2 million, leaving a $7,665,449 balance.
The combined budget after projected revenues is $18,945,625.
According to Keiser, the important number in the budget is zero: the increase to the tax levy. He says even though the councilors dipped in the undesignated fund, the town still enjoys a healthy balance compared to other cities and towns – only Little Compton is healthier. To go out to bond, according to Keiser, the credit rating used is determined by the undesignated fund. The benchmark is 15 percent of the annual operating budget for a strong financial standing – Jamestown is at 17 percent.
Increases in this year’s budget include an 8 percent bump in Blue Cross. Also, town administration and the councilors elected to set aside $85,0000 for salary adjustDr. ments. Although Keiser isn’t sure where the money will go, he anticipates salary increases for police and town employees following contract negotiations over the coming weeks.
“We haven’t finished labor talks with the unions,” he said. “We have to put the money somewhere.”
The proposed budget for capital improvements is $1,252,216, more than it’s been in recent memory thanks to savings in the schools. Included in the capital fund is $65,000 for affordable housing, $15,000 for a feasibility study on a new Fire Department substation, $33,000 for a new police cruiser, $31,750 to replace the tube on a rescue boat, and $150,000 to put a new roof on the recreation center.
Also, the budget puts aside $35,000 to paint and insulate Town Hall, and about $75,000 to improve the library, which includes air conditioning, carpeting and new front door. Keiser said $50,000 was also put into the Fort Getty fund.
With the town scheduled to pay all debts off by 2015, the councilors mulled going out to bond to repair all the roads that need repaving. Generally the town follows a pay-as-you-go system, with about $300,000 set aside each year to pave 2 miles of road. But instead of going out to bond to pave all of North Road, the council charged the Public Works Department with completing a $5,000 study to see if the street could be widened for a bike path. Therefore, per usual, $325,000 was set aside to pave 2 miles of road.
Finally, the 2 feet of snow that fell on the island during the February nor’easter will leave its mark on the upcoming year’s budget. The Town Council approved an additional $5,450 to pay for overtime to plow roads, up to $28,000 from $22,550.
“We’ve had the same figure for a number of years, but with the more severe winters we are seeing these days, we figured it was time,” said Keiser.
This will be the last budget that Keiser will oversee – he announced his retirement last week. His Town Hall drawer is expected to be empty by October.
“Over the last four years, since the recession, the town has held an average increase to the tax levy to below 2 percent,” he said. “That’s pretty good.”