2014-04-17 / Front Page

Administration proposes $22.45 million budget

Council is expected to vote on spending plan Monday
By Margo Sullivan

Advance life support and more road paving are likely to be part of the budget that is recommended to voters at June’s financial town meeting, the councilors said at their April 10 budget workshop.

The Town Council is expected to vote Monday on the spending package for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

As proposed, the combined budget would total $22,454,804, with $12,375,518 for the school department and $10,079,286 for the municipal side. Of the $10 million, $1.21 million is earmarked for capital improvements.

School officials reduced their request from the town by more than $100,000 to keep taxpayer bills down. Despite the gesture, Councilor Eugene Mihaly objected to the size of the school’s surplus.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser defended the school’s zero-based budget. She pointed out that the department only has a surplus because it does not spend unnecessarily to empty its coffers by the end of the fiscal year, which is the practice with other districts. Kaiser said the school surplus typically amounts to about 10 percent of its operating budget and reflects prudent financial management.

Prior to the workshop, Town Administrator Andy Nota met with department heads to fine-tune budget requests. Those discussions added $75,000 to the line item for road paving, lifting the total to $400,000. To compensate, the councilors indicated they will remove $30,000 from the $200,000 line item for the site improvements at the Fort Getty pavilion. Both items are part of the capital budget for the public works department.

That figure, however, does not include any money for work on the Bayview Drive embankment, where utilities have been in danger of falling into the water due to sea erosion. Moreover, no money was earmarked for repairs to the North Bayview Drive embankment, where the road has been partly closed due to damage.

“I guess now’s a good time to tell you we lost North Bayview Drive,” Gray told the councilors.

Nota said Gray did not want to put a number on the cost to repair those roads, but would reallocate other funds if an emergency developed.

“[Gray’s] uncomfortable with- out knowing the scope to complete either project,” Nota said.

Nota also added $100,000 for the fire department to start planning for the addition to the Narragansett Avenue fire station, and $25,000 for a new intercept vehicle for the rescue workers.

He reduced the capital budget for the town clerk and tax assessor by $5,000 each, and zeroed out a $25,000 allocation for documents requested by the planning department.

The bottom line is expected to increase property tax bills, but add pennies to the per-thousand valuation, the councilors learned. The exact number is not yet known.

Nota’s proposed capital improvement budget came to $1,207,000, an increase of $245,000 from the prior year. Finance Director Tina Collins, who served as the interim town administrator, had previously proposed a 23 percent decrease to $962,000.

The department heads had requested more than $5 million.

Collins said she expects to have additional revenues but does not yet know the number. She had opted not to add the $25,000 to revenues from the transfer station, pending the council’s discussion about raising the station fee from $100 to $125.

However, the councilors indicated they did favor the fee increase.

“That makes sense to me,” Council President Kristine Trocki said.

“And it doesn’t have anything to do with closing the landfill,” Councilor Mary Meagher noted.

The councilors also heard a last-minute pitch for $8,000 from the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce. Trocki recused herself from the discussion. She is a former chamber president, and current board member.

Mihaly, who identified himself as a current chamber member, said he would favor giving the funds, but allowed that the issue about giving to nonprofit organizations could stand further review.

Councilor Blake Dickinson said he would like to help the chamber and suggested giving half the requested sum, the same procedure the councilors followed last year when they donated money to the Jamestown Arts Center to help pay for the roof.

Collins said per Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, there could be a problem with presenting the financial town meeting with a line item for economic development or for a charitable grant if the organization receiving the money was not specifically identified.

She asked the council for direction.

Meagher said she would like to discuss the question with Ruggiero before voting.

“A larger discussion really needs to happen,” she said.

Meagher has favored adding a line item for a grants fund, which might amount to $10,000, she said. Meagher discussed the concept with the former town administrator, who was hesitant. His reasoning was, “In Massachusetts, it was not something you could do,” she said.

However, Meagher continued, “It is something you could do in Rhode Island.”

“It should be a process that meets full disclosure,” Collins said.

“That’s what I’m trying to say,” Meagher replied. “We might even create a committee.”

Nota said the town would need to collect significant information about grant candidates and be aware this decision would open the door for many other organizations with similar requests.

“It needs some thinking,” Mihaly said.

For the time being, he suggested taking $4,000 out for the chamber and creating a line item in the future for economic development.

Meagher said she wanted to discuss the ramifications with Ruggiero.

Dickinson suggested cutting the line item for pavilion repairs down from $170,000, and giving the $4,000 to the chamber.

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