2017-06-01 / Front Page

Town to decide $23.7M budget’s fate

Residents will vote on 2017-18 plan at Monday’s town meeting
BY TIM RIEL

Taxpayers will be asked Monday to approve a $23.72 million budget for 2017-18, which represents an uptick of nearly $580,000 from the current spending plan.

That 2.36 percent increase is driving a proposed 8-cent upsurge in the property tax rate, which Town Administrator Andy Nota anticipates will be $8.67 per $1,000 valuation if the measure is passed. That would mean homeowners with houses valued at $500,000 would pay $40 more in taxes.

If approved, the total tax levy would be $19.23 million, up 2 percent from this fiscal year’s $18.85 million. Education is responsible for roughly 57.4 percent of that number. That levy is based on the town’s net real and tangible property value of about $2.28 billion.

The proposed measure includes a total capital plan of $1.23 million, which is down 7.4 percent from the current year. The lion’s share of that figure is on the town side, with $1.12 million earmarked for projects. Among those line items include $88,000 for the final payment of the replacement ambulance, $75,000 to the affordable housing fund and $75,000 for Fort Getty. At the town park, Nota said, there are plans to construct a gatehouse and an equipment garage. Renovations on the horizon also include the restrooms, the pier and the military encampment.

The improvement program for the roads calls for $325,000, of which $200,000 is set aside for the multi-year North Road rehabilitation. The remaining balance will benefit the Jamestown Shores neighborhood, including Schooner, Capstan, Davit, Frigate, Beacon, Spriketing and Sampan.

For the first time, the town is setting aside $25,000 to study green energy. The money, Nota said, will be used for feasibility studies to see if solar arrays can be installed on public buildings, most notably the schools. Also, the capital improvement plan earmarks $25,000 for roofing and siding so the fire station expansion matches the original structure. That work was axed from the $2.5 million bond approved by voters in 2015 to keep the construction at less than $2.2 million. The remaining $300,000 was borrowed for a new fire engine. Even with this set aside, Nota said the cost remains under budget.

Aside from the capital plan, other budget items include an initial $25,000 investment to an irrevocable trust that only can be used for retiree benefits. Currently, the police liability is $3.99 million while the schools are on the hook for $6.1 million. The $25,000 will be added to a combined reserve fund that has $1.18 million invested, of which $1 million has come from the school committee.

“This will need to be increased in the future,” Nota said.

Under public buildings, the cleaning services have increased form $52,000 to $80,000 since fiscal 2016. Nota said that is because the town has taken control of the Conanicut Grange for seniors and the expanded fire station.

As for debt service, the cost is roughly 16 percent more because money borrowed for the fire station has to start being paid back. That represents $130,265. According to Nota, other significant items that won’t show up as budget line items include the increased tax breaks for veterans, which amounted to about 2 cents, or 25 percent, of the tax rate hike. Nota said this amounted to an increase from approximately a $17,000 exemption to a $62,000 break.

“It was long overdue and an important change,” Nota said. “Although most people believe it is purely cost increases, personnel or costly projects that drive the overall tax rate, when it is in fact many different variables, including important items like the veterans exemptions.”

The town also is losing $62,000 in revenue, which has been a steady stream of cash from the harbor commission’s reimbursement obligation for the East Ferry seawalls.

The financial town meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 5 in the Lawn School gymnasium.

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