November 26, 2014
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Tax bills should be in mail next week

Now that the City Council has appropriated an additional $400,000 to schools and the mayor has adjusted tax rates, tax bills should be going in the mail next week. The first quarterly payment is due July 15. Those planning to pay in full have until Sept. 15.

Acting Tax Collector David Olsen has made some changes to the bill that should avoid some confusion by listing dates at which time interest on late payments will be posted. He also advised that people paying electronically be sure to use their new account number when making payments.

Those making multiple payments with a single check should provide a breakdown of the taxes being paid, he said.

Olsen warned people not to mix utility and tax payments. Utilities are billed quarterly and those numbers change with each billing. Also, utility and tax payments are sent to different post office boxes.

The bills reflect a tax rate higher than what the mayor proposed.

Mayor Scott Avedisian called for a $288.8 million budget with a 23-cent increase in the residential tax rate. When the mayor’s plan reached the council, however, adjustments were made that reduced use of city reserves and made cuts to various department budgets, including a $607,000 reduction in healthcare premiums. The council applied the savings to schools and to boost the $450,000 allocated for repaving to $1 million.

Avedisian vetoed the budget amendments, giving a line-by-line explanation for each of his actions. The council failed to muster the super majority 6-3 vote required to override each of the 11 items, with the exception of schools.

That, in effect, boosted the budget to $289.2 million and left the mayor to come up with an additional $400,000 or let things stand and hope that the difference could be made up through saving during the year. Last week, he chose to bump his proposed residential rate by 4 cents to $20.06 per $1,000. The commercial rate that is currently $29.68 will go to $30.09. The tangible rate of $39.58 goes to $40.12 and the motor vehicle rate is unchanged at $34.60.

In a release issued by his office, Avedisian said, according to City Charter Section 5-5, if the council increases its total expenditures it must also increase the total tax level to at least equal such increased proposed expenditures.

“As a consequence of the City Council’s action to increase the total expenditures in the budget by $400,000, pursuant to the relevant provisions of the City Charter, the tax rates initially proposed in my budget for Fiscal Year 2015 must increase,” Avedisian said.

In arguing for additional school funding last Monday, Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9) pointed out that Warwick schools receive $35 million in state funds as compared to $212 million for Providence, $46 million for Cranston, $50 million for Woonsocket and $39 million for Central Falls.

“We’re better off living in another city,” he said. “How do you hurt one city so much? Our kids get hurt because we live south of the border.”

Merolla also attacked the proposed Kent County Mayoral Academy, a charter school serving Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry. When fully operational with more than 500 students, of which about 125 would be from Warwick, Warwick schools would lose about $1.8 million in state funds to pay for Mayoral Academy tuitions.

“Do not ask us to fund the charter school,” Merolla pleaded.

In his veto message, Avedisian defended level city funding of schools at $119 million, arguing that school enrollment is dropping and, based on the Department of Education maintenance of effort requirements, he could actually cut the city’s contribution by $3 million and meet state requirements. He also noted that the school’s own studies conclude that with consolidation of secondary schools, the department could save in excess of $2 million annually, which he vowed to let schools keep in their budget going forward.

As for the charter school, which was to have been reviewed in public hearings this week at Coventry Town Hall, the hearings have been postponed indefinitely at Avedisian’s request.

In a statement concerning the council’s action, Avedisian said, “Accordingly, as a result of the City Council’s action to increase the budget expenditures and the tax rates against my recommendations, I will allow the Budget Resolution to go into effect as adopted by the City Council without my signature,” Avedisian said.


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