October 22, 2014
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Council approves budget, now schools face cuts
Warwick Beacon
BUDGET TALK: Councilmen Charles Donovan Jr. and Joseph Gallucci confer during Monday’s budget hearing.

After nearly 24 hours of public hearings and untold hours of sifting through documents and research, the City Council, by a 6-3 vote, approved a $282 million budget that sets the residential property tax rate at $19.79, an increase of 11 cents, and provides schools with $437,832 more than the level funded budget proposed by Mayor Scott Avedisian.

The mayor was undecided yesterday as to whether he would approve the budget.

Overall, the budget is $1.1 million less than Avedisian first proposed. Last Wednesday, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon questioned the appropriation for the Fire II pension and whether it exceeded the amount needed to meet the annual contribution. On Friday, Avedisian amended the budget by $1.1 million and dropped the proposed tax increase by 11 cents.

Then Monday, after an effort mounted by Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur to postpone a vote on the budget for a couple of days failed, the council voted on a series of amendments proposed by Solomon to reduce various line items that totaled close to $400,000.

Although the council only has the power to make a lump sum allocation to schools, Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci sought to ensure schools would not cut funding for special needs tuition payments amounting to $400,000. Gallucci observed the council is powerless when it comes to directing schools how it should spent its money but felt they could ask for a “ladies and gentlemen’s agreement” that the money would go for the tuitions. That didn’t fly and the council agreed to increase the school appropriation with the recommendation the funds would go for books and other supplies.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson said she didn’t want to see the added amount going into step increases and pay raises.

“I want to see it all in the classroom,” she said.

“I realize you can’t earmark the funds,” said Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. Yet, he said he would like to see the money go into books, computers and supplies.

But how the School Committee will come up with nearly $3.4 million in cuts by the start of the fiscal year on July 1 is the challenge.

Committee member Gene Nadeau lamented the task after the council adjourned shortly before midnight. With all but $20 million of the school’s $159 million budget tied up in salaries and benefits, he saw no alternative to cutting into programs. Turning to the unions that won 1.5 percent pay raises, he did not see as a viable option.

Committee chair Bethany Furtado, who left the meeting two hours earlier, looked at the larger picture. While it would appear to be impractical to implement for this budget, she spoke of the need for school consolidations, including the possible closure of two junior high schools and conceivably as many senior high schools.

Furtado was the lone committee holdout to close Gorton Junior High this year, as recommended by a short-term facilities committee. That alone would have saved an estimated $1.1 million in operating expenses. The committee chose to give Gorton at least a one-year reprieve while the full facilities committee developed a long-range plan. But, in the process, the possibility of the $1.1 million in savings for the next fiscal year was lost.

Ladouceur advocated for delaying the council vote, saying he had learned a lot from the budget hearings and that the council needed to be sensitive to the financial hard times faced by residents. He said the added time should be devoted “to figure out a way to not burden the taxpayers with another [tax] increase.”

Council president Donna Travis saw not point to postponing the vote. She said that with the $1.1 million pension allocation reduction, the council was saving the taxpayers.

“We’ve got to put the whole package together,” she said.

Solomon’s list of budget amendments focused on departments that had not spent all of their budget in the current year or were faced with inventory from the current year, such as road salt for the highway division.

One of the more sensitive cuts he proposed was the elimination of two custodial positions in the Police Department for a savings of $92,832.

Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono questioned if the positions were simply transferred from the Department of Public Works. Solomon insisted they are new. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Ed Carpenter is one of the police custodians whose position would be eliminated, the mayor confirmed yesterday. Carpenter was a Ward 4 candidate for City Council several years ago, running an unsuccessful campaign against Solomon.

Council members voting against the budget were Ladouceur, Merolla and Colantuono.


Comments
5 comments on this item

During the council presentation, the council said they wanted the additional funds to go to Books, Computers and Sports. Well which is it... Books, Computers or Sports? The answer to the question is, the money will go to keeping Gorton Jr High School open, to keep the school open cost approximately $1.1 Million according to reports. Multiple members of the City Council, including City Council President Travis and Councilperson Vella Wilkinson appeared before the School Committee demanding they keep Gorton open so a long term plan could be formed. I believe Travis's exact words were, "Blah Blah Blah, Gorton Good, Blah Blah Blah, School Administration Very Bad, Blah blah blah, Vote Travis Next Election", to which she received great applause. It was purely political. This is how I remember it.

The School Committee voted to keep the school open for another year to plan and in doing so also put the programs of the students in jeopardy. Without adequate additional funding programs will need to be cut. The cost of keeping the Jr High school open another year will far exceed the $432,000 in additional funds provided to the school in this budget. If a city council member bothered to look at any of the last several years of school budgets, they would know that the cost of a set of new books alone exceeds $437,000. So, maybe in Warwick imaginary city council land, $437,000 pay for books, computers and sports but in the real world, it doesn't pay for squat.

Sincerely, Patrick Maloney

"Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson said she didn’t want to see the added amount going into step increases and pay raises."

Grandstanding again. Did she make a similar demand for prior increases in the City-side budget?

There will be no way that this city can "all work together" so long as Councilors like Vella-Wilkinson and Travis continue to take cheap shots and try to score ill-informed political points at the expense of the schools.

That being said, it's pretty obvious the first place to cut will be to remove the raises for the non-union employees (again). If I recall, non-contract obligated pay raises accounted for around $160K (for around 60-65 people). Still a ways to go.

Administration raises account for $86,000 and they haven't had a raise in 5 years, but they now pay a 20% co-pay which far exceeds the raise. Where will the other $3.391,400 come from? Rather than take back the $86K, I would raise the co-pay to 25% for administration. I would then put the unions on notice that the co-pay for all employees is going up to 25%. I would negotiate for the increase now and when their contracts are up, if they haven't agreed to raise it to 25%, I would suggest the school committee start this now. I would finish the long term plan immediately and plan to close a school over the Holiday break when they vote again on a school closure. I would tell the State we don't have money for the computers to implement the Parcc testing and make the state provide it. I would go to the legislature and ask them to lift some of the restrictive mandates. I would sue the state for putting in a education funding formula that is not equitable for the Students of Warwick. (Warwick gets $20 Million while Providence, Pawtucket and Central falls get much more than Warwick. Warwick taxpayers subsidize education all over the state and then we have to do without. Rep Mcnamara, Chair of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee took care of Pawtucket where he was a public employee but did not watch out for his constituents regarding the funding formula.)

So Solomon got revenge on a poor custodian who dared to run against him in an election? Why is this not a separate story of its own? What an arrogant abuse of power.

Taking that custodian's job sounds like vengence. And taking the job of some poor orker instead of cutting these damn teacher off... Absolute SIN. I hate it here. The fox is in charge of the hen house !

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