$28.29M budget overwhelmingly OK’d

Tax rate for 2022-23 will be between $6.74 and $6.79


ABOVE: Town officials seated at the front of the Lawn School gymnasium Monday during the financial town meeting that took about 30 minutes to be dispatched. Nancy Beye, fourth from right, made the successful plea, as president of the town council, for voters to approve the $28.29 million budget.

ABOVE: Town officials seated at the front of the Lawn School gymnasium Monday during the financial town meeting that took about 30 minutes to be dispatched. Nancy Beye, fourth from right, made the successful plea, as president of the town council, for voters to approve the $28.29 million budget.

With only a handful of token votes opposing the motions, the combined budget of $28.29 million for 2022- 23 was passed Monday in less than a half-hour at the financial town meeting.

The spending plan approved by 125 voters represents a $1.66 million increase from this year. Residents also unanimously adopted a property tax rate that will range from $6.74 to $6.79 per $1,000 of assessed value for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The current rate is $8.28.

Despite applause from the modest audience that followed these approvals, the vote to pass a warrant to purchase the development rights for the Jamestown Community Farm generated the largest response. With scattered hoots and hollers, that motion passed without objection.

For the general government side of the budget, a spending plan of $12.31 million, or 43.5 percent of the combined plan, was passed. That includes $9.98 million for the operating budget with $904,300 in capital improvements and $1.42 million in debt service.

LEFT: Bob Sutton emphasizes the importance of the Jamestown Community Farm. Voters agreed, and unanimously approved a warrant to borrow money to purchase the development rights for the 17 acres. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN

ABOVE: Bob Sutton emphasizes the importance of the Jamestown Community Farm. Voters agreed, and unanimously approved a warrant to borrow money to purchase the development rights for the 17 acres. PHOTOS BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN

The increase to the combined budget was led by the school district, which is responsible for $15.98 million. The majority of that outlay includes the operating budget of $14.17 million, $656,822 in capital improvements, and nearly $900,000 in federal COVID-19 relief. The municipal appropriation to support that plan is $13.58 million, which represents a 5.5 percent increase from this year.

The initial request from the school committee was even higher than the approved plan. The operating budget proposed in February by Ken Duva, superintendent of schools, was $14.44 million, or 7.57 percent more than fiscal 2022.

To approve that plan, however, the district would have needed a waiver from Rhode Island’s auditor general to exceed the 4 percent cap. Instead of seeking that waiver, the school board and town council reached a compromise.

The district trimmed its budget by $108,000 by eliminating four positions, and the councilors earmarked $159,465 from its reserve to offset the remainder that was needed to get below the cap.

“In last year’s speech, I started out by saying that our community had come together in true Jamestown fashion when it came to dealing with the COVID crisis,” said Nancy Beye, president of the town council. “Tonight, I want to applaud Jamestown’s residents once again for coming together to create a budget that we feel will be in the best interest of everyone. It had its customary challenges, and then some.”

The warrant to purchase the 17-acre farm at the corner of East Shore Road and Eldred Avenue is a not-to-exceed number of $400,000. The amount of money that will be borrowed from that outlay, however, will depend on the number of donations generated from the nonprofit organization’s fundraiser.

The property, including 13 acres in the watershed, is subdivided into six roughly 1-acre lots and a 10-acre field, all owned by Peter Ceppi. The acquisition of these properties would strengthen the 1,000- acre greenway of protected open space that traverses the center of Conanicut Island.

Starting at Carr Lane and heading south between East Shore and North Main roads, the greenway comprises the North Pond, bike path, community farm, soccer fields, Windmist Farm, Marsh Meadows, the bird sanctuary, and the golf course. The southern border is roughly Whittier Road.

If the organization is unable to reach an agreement with Ceppi, the land could be sold to residential developers, which would create a gap in that greenway. An appraisal of the land is based on real estate prices because the most profitable use of the land would be to build 10 houses.

Along with moments of silence to honor Melissa Burrows, a member of the board of canvassers who died in February, and the shooting victims of Uvalde, Texas, the only breaks in the meeting came from Bob Sutton, Valerie Southern, and Donald Richardson.

Sutton, who manages the community farm, presented a brief plea prior to the vote on the warrant to explain the importance of preserving that property.

Southern said she was only interested in the tax rate, and after learning that it would decrease by at least $1.50, she sat down satisfied.

Even with the tax rate decreasing by nearly 20 percent, that does not mean all homeowners will receive a break on their bills. A full reassessment of property values in 2021 resulted in an overall increase of 23-25 percent to the tax roll.

Richardson, prior to the first vote, made the motion for a paper ballot opposed to a voice vote. The motion needed 20 percent of the registered voters in attendance to support it, but only seven people stood up to endorse Richardson. All the votes were easily determined by voice votes.

The 125 voters who casted their votes at the meeting represents just 2 percent of the electorate in Jamestown, which has 5,169 registered voters.