October 20, 2014
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Mayor’s budget increases spending by 1.3%

All things being equal, Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $283 million budget calling for a $3.6 million increase in spending would result in a 22-cent increase in the tax rate.

But since the city just completed a revaluation, not all things are equal. In fact, overall property values declined by nearly 5.5 percent, meaning, just to maintain current tax revenues, the rate must increase.

The mayor has proposed a residential tax rate of $19.90 per $1,000 of valuation; a commercial/industrial rate of $29.85 and tangible rate of $39.80. The motor vehicle rate remains unchanged at $34.60, as does the $2,000 exemption.

In a press conference Tuesday, Avedisian said his administration wrestled with whether to reduce the motor vehicle exemption, which could have covered additional budget expenses without effectively increasing the tax rate. While the administration could have recommended reducing the exemption to $500, the allowable amount set by law, Avedisian said the $2,000 exemption affected more people that probably are in greater need.

However, as a result of the revaluation, not all property owners can expect the higher tax rate will translate into a larger tax bill. Not that the city has done a breakdown, but City Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski estimated a third of the city’s property owners would see an increase in their tax bill while another third would basically remain the same and the remaining third would experience a decline.

As for the budget, there are few declines in spending and some increases, the most notable being an added $2 million for pensions; an additional $900,000 in principal and interest debt costs; and near level funding for most departments. There are no salary increases for city employees, the result of contracts that exclude salary increases for the next three years. Depending on staffing decisions, there could be up to 3.5 additional city employees.

He lists the largest decrease in city expenses – $1.2 million – as coming in the area of employee benefits as the city drops Blue Cross and Blue Shield and moves to the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust as the third-party administrator.

Addressing Fire Department overtime, which has consistently run over budget and promises to do so again in the current budget, Avedisian budgets about $900,000, or $1.8 million less than what is projected to be spent this year. He expects to accomplish this with a federal $3.1 million grant that enabled the department to add 17 people to bring it to a full complement of 220. Those salaries and benefits are to be paid with grant funds that will be ending sometime toward the end of 2015.

The mayor has recommended a $156.6 million school budget that calls for a level funding of the city appropriation at $118.6 million.

Avedisian said the level funding of schools should not come as a surprise to School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado or Superintendent Richard D’Agostino. He said he had discussions and expressed his feeling it was not fair for the committee to be handing out salary increases when other non-school municipal employees were going without raises. Teachers, non-teachers and administrators received salary increases of about 1.5 percent.

Avedisian said school personnel assured him that those raises could be made without turning to the city for more money and that they could live within that budget. The School Committee has passed a budget that calls for an overall increase of $1.2 million in spending and an additional $3.8 million from the city.

“I took them at face value. Their assurances pretty much made that [level funding schools] the easiest decision in the budget process,” the mayor said.

In his budget message, the mayor says the fiscal year 2014 spending package “bears in mind the need to balance the fiscal realities that the City faces with the need to maintain the quality municipal services that our residents expect.”

In response to Council President Donna Travis, who has been pushing for the funding, the mayor’s budget recommends $45,000 to implement the Neighborhood Intensive Traffic Enforcement (NITE) program in the Police Department, which was dropped in the current budget. An additional $108,000 is proposed for computers and printers; $45,000 for fire station building improvements and; $35,000 to buy mowers for recreation fields.

The budget assumes passage of the governor’s proposed budget, providing the city with $2.9 million in state aid.

In the opening remarks to his budget address, Avedisian says the city has “weathered the economic crises far better than many other cities and towns, attributing that in part to the cooperation of union and management employees who have gone without raises and withstood budget cuts. He also points to positive developments, saying that the general fund bonded debt, with the exclusion of schools, is the lowest in 16 years and that the city has posted surpluses for 12 of the last 13 years. The surplus now stands at about $8 million. It was not used, as was done in prior years, to balance the budget.

Under the transfer of funds at the end of the current fiscal year, the city may dip into the reserves for a total of $800,000 to cover revenue shortfalls resulting from possible delays in the processing of tax bills and the postponement of the city tax sale to August, which would put it in the 2014 fiscal year.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Mark Carruolo, said yesterday that the $800,000 is included in the end of the year transfer to “err on the side of caution.” Only some of it, perhaps none of it, will be needed, he said.

Outside of finances, the mayor highlighted “positive trends” in economic development. He cited the opening of new retail outlets at the Warwick Mall; JetBlue service at Green Airport; opening the Ocean State Theatre Company; the city’s strong hotel occupancy rate; the sale of the Rhode Island Mall; and the ongoing efforts to market the Warwick Station Development District.

District development is also mentioned as the mayor takes a look forward. Other projects in the new fiscal year mentioned are: reuse of the Potowomut School property as the site for a new fire station; relocation of the Winslow ball fields as the Rhode Island Airport Corporation moves ahead with a runway extension; commencement of the long awaited Apponaug Bypass; and the cleanup and development of the more than 80 acres of Rocky Point acquired earlier this year by the state.


Comments
29 comments on this item

Not bad Not bad at all. lets see what happens.

I'll tell ya the Mayor is doing a decent job in these tough economic times. First, good for him to keeping things a level playing field if you will. If the rest of the city isn't getting raises, why should the teachers. Funny how the school admin. says oh raises wouldn't effect the budget yet they want to shut down Gorton. People keep a close eye on the school admin. and their budget, please! Further more, I applaud the move forward agenda listed in the last paragraph. Gearing up for the runway expansion by the moving of Winslow Field, and the Apponaug Bypass project, clean up and development of Rocky Point. Folks this is all very good stuff. The Mayor is leading this city into the future. He has been a "green" Mayor by leading by example. The outstanding recycling in the city, the city composting site, the efficient lighting through out the city buildings to name a few. I'd like to see a plant trees program through out the city, we need more trees and less parking lots that are vacant. Hopefully the future projects incorporate more trees and plants. Apponaug could use some of those beautiful flowering trees in the Spring that turn vibrant colors in the Fall.

I'll tell ya the Mayor is doing a decent job in these tough economic times. First, good for him to keeping things a level playing field if you will. If the rest of the city isn't getting raises, why should the teachers. Funny how the school admin. says oh raises wouldn't effect the budget yet they want to shut down Gorton. People keep a close eye on the school admin. and their budget, please! Further more, I applaud the move forward agenda listed in the last paragraph. Gearing up for the runway expansion by the moving of Winslow Field, and the Apponaug Bypass project, clean up and development of Rocky Point. Folks this is all very good stuff. The Mayor is leading this city into the future. He has been a "green" Mayor by leading by example. The outstanding recycling in the city, the city composting site, the efficient lighting through out the city buildings to name a few. I'd like to see a plant trees program through out the city, we need more trees and less parking lots that are vacant. Hopefully the future projects incorporate more trees and plants. Apponaug could use some of those beautiful flowering trees in the Spring that turn vibrant colors in the Fall.

The commentators so far appear to be pleased with this budget. Some might ask why? With all personnel costs basically frozen, there is still a $3.6 Million increase in spending. This should tell anyone reading this that this Mayor has put this city in a very economically fragile situation, especially since Warwick has had little to NO growth in its tax base for the last 3 years.

A friend of my commented on a person we worked with who was always griping,and negative. He said,"You could give him Ireland with a fence around it,and he still wouldn't be happy".

There are a few in this city that will complain even they didn't pay any taxes. That's why I take their comment with a grain of salt.... As I'm sure they do the same with mine... Everyone else is the enemy. Feel bad for those people...

DOES ANY ONE...DOES THE MAYOR OF WARWICK CARE? HAVE NOT HEARD ... ANTHING AT ALL....NOT ONE comment about the very beginning of Warwick....Post Road. .SOUTH ..from Pawtuxet Village that road is disgusting...bumpy potholes and many inadequate years of repairs beginning at the historic gravesite on the left...our founding father's including Roger Williams from Pawtuxet must be anguished by the lack of attention to this historic road........The Mayor should be ashamed of himself for not acquiring a new pacement. for Post Road South to Warwick Ave/ Post Rd........ Happy Gaspee Days!!!!!.....Where are the basic priorities????

spelling.....PAVEMENT

It is good to see the Mayors supporters and union workers like fireman. Stevie D, are pleased. What a surprise....wouldn't expect anything else. The fact is a few years ago we had a $12 million surplus.

There are so many things I could point out lacking I n the Mayor's presentation but until the taxpayers give a damn there is no point.

Reality, where in my comment did I say I was pleased. My point was look at the world around you. There are people dying of hunger, homelessness , etc. I'm glad I have a stable life. You and fenceman would complain if things were free. I have alot of concern for people, you two are on the bottom of the list...

POST ROAD IS A STATE ROAD BLAME THE STATE NOT WARWICK

I agree SteveD it is time to look at the glass being have full instead of half empty. So much negativity. We have a lot to be thank ful for

I understand about short term and long term committees and what they are trying to accomplish but nothing is more short term than the Mayors budget just sent to the city council. There is a raise in taxes again with no increase to schools. The budget proposed for approval within the next month will require extremely short term planning. If passed in its current form will require the school committee to cut $3.8 Million from the budget. This will mean draconian cuts to which this city has not seen.

Where will schools find $3.8 Million in cuts. Which of your child's programs do you want cut? Any of them? All of them? Contact your city council person and attend the city council budget hearings. Let them hear your voice.

Does Warwick need a tax increase to provide a small increase in funding to the schools? No, the city has raised taxes every year for 24 years and has additional revenue amounting to a yearly increase of $30 Million annually over the last 4 years. They have enough money, it just isn't going into education. It is paying for benefits and pensions of city employees. After 24 years of tax increases, when does it stop, when will they have enough of your money? The roads are in poor condition, property values are still down and the schools, our greatest asset for attracting families will have nothing to offer after these cuts. Warwick Schools will provide nothing more than the Basic Education Plan (BEP) set by the RIDE (RI Dept of Ed). This basic plan will be just that, nothing but the basics. At a time when we should be reaching higher and trying to attract families to broaden the tax base and stabilize we will be telling people, actually screaming at them to STAY AWAY! This is not what Warwick needs and there is a way to stop the insanity.

Here is a link to the city council emails and phone numbers. Contact your council person today.

http://www.warwickri.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=797&Itemid=237

We NEED to remember that the children are our future. We NEED to invest in our future!!!! Shame on the Mayor and City Council to try to short change our children AGAIN!!!!

Get your facts straight Beacon. The tax increase is 1.3%, city expenses are increasing 3.2%, the Mayor is keeping the entire increase for himself, the schools are being level funded again. That means City spending is increasing 3.2% not the 1.3% he is claiming. The city budget is $127 million ($283 million less $156 million for schools). The $4 million increase is all on the City side of the budget. A $4 million increase on a $127 million budget is 3.2%. The Mayor never wants the facts to get in the way of a good press release.

Warwicktaxpayer93, The proposed budget is going up 1.3%. The tax rate will increase a lot more than that. The people whose house values stayed the same are going to get hammered, the people whose values dropped a lot may see a decrease. What will be great is when Warwick starts to grow and home values rise and the mayor and city council lowers our rates to pre-recession levels.;-)

Another tax increase? 24 years in a row? How can people be pleased with anything this mayor does?

So we have another Tax increase. 3.6 million plus State increase funding of 2.9 million and a grant from the Fed's for 3.1 million (we will use a 2 year avg. ) 1.55 million. That is 8 million dollars more. Humm now next years the State does not increase funding (this maybe a one time deal from pension reform) and the New firefighters have to be pay for after 2015 by the city. So Next years increase will be twice as much (without the State increase, and the year after that it will be twice as much as next years. How about level funding the city. The Mayor has a 2.9 from the State and 1.55 million to pay for the new firefighter. So NO INCREASE IS NEEDED!

With regard to the school department. They had a surprise surplus of $2.9 million. So what was that spent on? Capital projects? Textbooks? Technology? Most of it was spent on wage increases negotiated by the School Committee. Labor peace a beautiful thing. Remember that then the School Committee says athletics have to be cut to save mone or when the sue the city (taxpayers for more money).

With declining enrollment there shouldn't be a been for more money.Schools at 50% occupancy; give me a break.

Using the old and new tax rates my taxes will go down $23. That's fine but it would be nice to have a no tax increase. The Mayor and Council are not perfect but when I look around at the cities in RI I can't say any are doing better.

Gordian Knot,

$700K was spent on new Math textbooks. Principals were given a 1.5% raise - they hadn't had one in four or five years and you can't say that for municipal side employees. My biggest issue was with the WISE contract extension which had 1.5% raises built in. That was done in a less than transparent way and essentially sprung on the new committee. Dont forget that the previous City contracts gave a 6% total raise during their 3 year lifetime and the city side was paying the equivalent of a 10% health care copay while the school contracts were far less generous and they were paying a 20% healthcare copay. About the 50% building capacity stat - if Warwick moves to a 6-8 middle school, the junior highs go to 80+% capacity for several years and we give the 6th graders better instruction (in my opinion) and we open up a lot of space at the elementary level for consolidation of at least one school. Once that's done, you set your sights on the high schools and the Career & Tech Center. A private enterprise would not reduce its assets without first having a long term plan in place - that's what the school committee is asking for here. I'm struck by the seeming acquiescene to the city side of the budget increasing by over 50% over the past 10 years while losing over 3000 residents, while the schools, who have lost 1000 students over the last 10 years and have, among oher things; closed 4 schools; eliminated many positions; led the way in increasing employees healthcare copays; privatized services; and operated with level funding over the past two or three years gets pilloried when they ask for money. (I'm not suggesting at all that they get the full $3.8 million). For the past few years ALL of our increased tax dollars have gone to the city side and not to the schools. Actions speak louder than words. The Mayor brags that he's the only elected official in the city who graduted from a public school (or something like that). I only wish that he (and the City Council) would support them as well as they were supported when he was a student there.

Dave, I have explained to Gordianknot several times about the school costs vs the city costs for at least a year. I am convinced he is either someone who works for the Beacon, someone who works for the mayor or a member of the city council because no matter how many times I explain he asks a similar question about a different story.

One last time Gordianknot, if one student from each class leaves the schools it is not enough of a drop to lay off even one teacher because if the number of students goes from 22 to 21 you still have 21 students to teach. So while student levels have dropped in recent years not enough have left to actually drop the cost of a teacher. Schools have laid off or retired 20 teachers per year and have not replaced them. This is a savings. When the number of students are lower and the number of teachers has gone down the savings can be achieved when consolidating a school. Closing a school would have allowed for more staff to retire or be laid off and combining the students and staff into less buildings. The real savings is not in the building but in the staff reductions. The delay of the closure of a Jr High will lead to cuts in other places. Cuts of nearly $3.8 Million will need to be done to the current budget.

Pat, this assumes that level funding stays and thats predicated on how many people I.e. voters (whether they have kids nite schools or not), turn out to the city council and demand that more money be allocated to the schools. It's as simple as that. I don't think they need 3.8 million but when you look at the Mayors introduction or preamble to the budget it's th same thing. To paraphrase, 'I'm a public school graduate. The schools enrollment is declining. They can satisfybthe BEP and make do with what I give them'. Same song, every year. Neither Dr D'agostino nor Beth Furtado will change anyone's mind, especially since they want Gorton closed and the Mayor and Council know that. No, the only thing that will change anything is the turnout of those tax payers and voters, who place a greater value on education than do the Mayor and Council. I saw and heard councilmpersons Ladoucer, Vella Wilkinson, and Travis all approach the microphone and say that Gorton should not close but not offer even a small piece of a solution. Ms.Vella-wilkinson idea of consolidating depts such as maintanence, purchasing, IT, etc has been around since the RIPEC report of 2005 (I think). Since the unionized portions of those departments make less $ and have benefits that are not as good as those on the city side, do you think they will willingly become employees oif the city but keep a different pay and benefit structure than their new counterparts? Doubtful. Regarding IT, I thought there were some real obstacles to combining that because at federal funding or something to that effect.. That idea sounds great on paper and in front of a microphone, but the devil is really in the details. Incidentally, none of our current council members has ever served on the scool committee and yet they're all experts as to what needs to be done and how much that should cost. When you wer on the school committee, how many council members made a good faith effort to talk to you to get a good understanding of what issues or challenges the scools face?

The answer to that is none. Three council members asked questions during budget time but collectively did nothing but talk a good game. People will not come out unless they feel they are going to lose something. By the time they figure out what will be lost it is already gone and the schools will be blamed for having to cut it. No additional funding will go to the schools. If council members get the press to tell their side of the story (this is the case 99.9% of the time), the school committee will be painted as morons and administration will be painted as buffoons and why would you trust morons and buffoons with money.

The three members who asked good questions and wanted to understand the issues were Joe Solomon, Steve Merolla and Charles Donovan. I appreciated the fact that they were concerned and asked valid questions. When it came time to vote, it did not translate into any additional help for the schools.

The schools are level funded every year, but the city budget continues to go up every year. Thats because the teachers are in the state retirement program and the municpal workers are in locally administered plans. Avedisian needs the muni union votes and he doesn't have the guts to approach the union or retiree's. Mayor Fung has shown real leadership. Our mayor has failed badly.

I would like to see a Big Dogs store on Rt 2. If you cant run with the Big Dogs, then stay on the porch!!

The problem with our economy right now (the whole economy, not just Warwick), is that not only are housing prices decreasing but inflation is increasing. The Mayor and the council have to raise property taxes just to keep the same revenue coming in... at the same time, something normally purchased or maintained by the town is going up in costs.

Fuel alone raises the costs of doing business, plus RI is one of the highest taxed states in the country. We have a very high corporate tax rate that keeps businesses away, we have a very high income tax rate which forces people to move, and on top of that we have one of the highest sales tax which forces people to go to MA or CT to buy certain items.

None of that is the Mayor's or City Council's fault... the only way we can fix that is to stop electing the same group of people to state office who have lead us down the road of disaster. Specifically, if you want to fix this state we need Fox and his minions gone... so when you vote, vote for someone who promises not to select Fox for Speaker.

1. $3.6M increase in revenue

2. $3.8M short in school department

3. School committee threatens to go to court

4. Mayor and Council hide under desks

5. Administration and Council fold like cheap suits and give the dough

6. Just another day in paradise.

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