2018-04-12 / Front Page

Revised budget lowers tax rate increase to 2%

BY TIM RIEL

Tiptoeing up to the state’s tax levy ceiling, both town and school officials delivered optimistic updates Tuesday night that could cut a dime from the proposed 29-cent tax hike.

“We like when these numbers go down,” said Kristine Trocki, council president.

It was the final time the councilors met before Monday, which is when they are expected to adopt the $24.4 million spending plan. That measure will then go before voters at the financial town meeting in June.

Ken Duva, superintendent of schools, and his team were applauded for cutting $101,000 dollars from their budget at the 11th hour. Council Vice President Mike White said he is never surprised by the department’s reliability throughout the years to submit a responsible budget.

“And you’ve built another one,” he said. “I congratulate you. The good news is that it’s even lower now than when you walked in the door.”

Duva’s changes stem from a new contract with First Student, the bus company that provides transportation for the district. Not only will the agreement shave $10,100 from the bottom line, but the contract also will provide Jamestown with three new buses for the upcoming school year. By the time the three-year deal has matured, all eight vehicles servicing students in town will be updated.

The biggest savings, however, was the approximately $90,000 in the special education budget because of a student moving out of town. Before this revelation, special education was responsible for a $504,700 increase from the current year, which represented a 19 percent uptick. Overall, the school budget increase was lowered by about 1 percentage point to 4.2 percent. The school committee is expected to adopt Duva’s recommendations at tonight’s meeting.

“I pretty sure it will pass,” said B.J. Whitehouse, chairman of the school board.

For their work throughout the process, Trocki commended the administration and school board for “thinking outside the box” and trimming a spending plan that “was going to increase to no matter what.”

“We always have on eye on two major things,” Whitehouse said. “Number one is the education of our children to preserve the republic. Number two is the bottom line.”

According to Finance Director Tina Collins, those changes from the school department would lower the tax rate from a 29-cent increase to 21 cents for fiscal year 2018-19. The rate currently is $8.66 per $1,000 valuation.

Town officials, however, weren’t done. Councilwoman Mary Meagher, who said she would like to see the increase below 20 cents, suggested increasing revenue from the Fort Getty campground while cutting the park’s funding from the capital improvement plan. Each measure is expected to save taxpayers $25,000. Those changes, Collins said, would bring the tax rate increase down to 19 cents. The 29-cent increase would have created a 3.8 percent hike in the tax levy, which is just below the state’s 4 percent cap. The town’s tax levy is estimated to be $19.97 million.

If these changes are adopted, the 2018-19 tax rate would be slightly more than 2 percent higher than the current cost.

That new rate, however, could jump a few cents prior to the vote. That’s because the town is considering an increase to the veterans’ tax exemption. The council was expected to act on that measure at a special meeting before the joint budget session, but Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero recommended postponing the meeting while he gets a ruling from the ethics commission. Councilmen White and Gene Mihaly, both veterans, are recusing themselves from the vote because they directly would be impacted. Trocki, however, recently married a veteran, which means her household also would see an annual savings. That would leave two councilors to mull the exemption, which doesn’t constitute a quorum.

Because of the large pool of veterans in the community, Ruggiero doesn’t think Trocki will have to recuse herself. He did, however, suggest postponing the meeting until he receives an outside opinion.

“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” Trocki said.

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