Budget debate may stray from the numbers
While the coldest March on record is behind us and real spring weather – at least temperatures in the 50s – eludes us, the budget process is heating up.
This evening the School Committee will start its review of the superintendent’s proposed $167 million at Vets Junior High. The proposed budget calls for a $4.8 million increase in Warwick taxpayer funding. The additional funds, explains Superintendent Philip Thornton, would cover the cost of a teachers’ contract, which still remains unresolved, higher healthcare costs and Chromebooks and classroom Promethean boards for the high schools.
On the city side, Mayor Scott Avedisian has been meeting with department directors to go through projected expenses for the upcoming year. Early in the process, City Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski said he was looking for department directors to hold the lid on expenses although he also welcomed innovative ideas on the delivery of services.
Ed Ladouceur, chair of the Council Finance Committee, has served notice that he intends to scrutinize each budget carefully and that unless requests can be justified, departments won’t be getting the money. He feels the city has been lax in seeking competitive bids, especially on health care, and will be looking for savings wherever they can be found. Ladouceur has said it’s time that the taxpayers get relief and he would like nothing better that a budget without an increase in taxes.
We know that is going to be difficult. The legacy cost of pensions keeps going up. Contracts calling for raises are already in place and although efforts have been made to trim Fire Department overtime expenses that doesn’t appear realistic until manning requirements and contractual changes are made.
The Fire Department budget will be a hot spot, but hardly the only one when the mayor delivers his budget to the council in mid-May. Public budget hearings have yet to be set. The Council has until June 8 to adopt the budget and June 12 is the deadline for the mayor to approve or veto the budget.
That’s the basic outline, but between now and the final document setting expenditures and the tax rate promises to be filled with a lot of questioning. Given the tone of recent council and school committee meetings, especially frustrations with the school department, we anticipate the focus to stray from the budget numbers.
Those issues should be aired, but we would urge they be done so in a civil and respectful manner. But let’s not stray too far from the goal of an affordable financial plan going forward.