The citizens group spawned in the wake of the city’s recent revaluation where homes valued between $150,000 and the mid-$200,0000 range three years ago saw the greatest increase in valuations will meet Wednesday at the Warwick Public Library as it prepares to dig into the city budget in an effort to avert the fiscal Armageddon being forecast by former City Councilman Robert Cushman. Cushman spoke to the group, the Warwick Financial Crisis Committee, at the group’s organizational meeting last Wednesday showing that even with a maximum 4 percent increase in property taxes over the next five years, the city could not keep pace with growing school salary and city retirement and retiree health care costs.
City Tax Assessor Neal Dupuis also addressed the group of about 80 people and answered questions about how the revaluation was performed, stressing that the program required by state law is “revenue neutral” and that assessments are reflective of values as of December 31, 2018. Still, that didn’t seem fair to several, including Melissa Shein of Hess Avenue, who using the city website calculated the change in valuations of about 100 properties across the city. What jumped out to her was that many properties assessed at $500,000 and higher saw little or no increase in value while those below $200,000 were hit with as high as a 48 percent increase.
“People who can least afford it are going to pay more,” she said. “Where’s the equity in this?”
A spokesman for Vision Government Solutions, which performed the statistical revaluation, said that over the last three years many people who got out of the housing market in 2008 are now coming back. With demand up and inventories down, home prices increased, which is reflected in the revaluation.
Dupuis said as of last week about 3.5 percent of the city’s 41,000 property owners, about 1,400 people, had scheduled hearings with Vision to review their assessment. The deadline for scheduling an appointment has passed.
Jay Buongiovanni, who organized the meeting and was elected committee president, felt the group had accomplished a lot in adopting a mission statement, naming an executive committee and “laying the groundwork for the future.”
“What I learned at that first meeting is how much I have to learn,” he said Friday.
He is hopeful that educational process will continue Wednesday with the first of two workshops starting at 6:30, with an explanation of the city budget by Cushman. That is to follow at 7:30 with a workshop conducted by citizen advocate Rob Cote, who will talk about issues relating to the Warwick Fire Department. Cote has researched the cost of unused firefighter sick pay and overtime and is questioning the whereabouts of an audit regarding the department and a five-year fiscal forecast overview for the city that were both directed by the City Council.
Asked who he thought should attend the workshops, Buongiovanni said, “any Warwick resident who has concerns about the future of Warwick.” He is focused on learning how to read the city budget “and what to look for.” He is also incredulous that citizens won’t have the mayor’s proposed budget at least 20 days before it is scheduled to come before the council for a vote.
Mayor Joseph Solomon is in the process of drafting the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. He has forewarned that the city could end the current fiscal year with more than a $7 million deficit and could face a structural deficit of $18 million next year. He has also said he would not seek a supplemental tax bill or a waiver of the 4 percent maximum levy increase. The maximum levy increase would generate an additional $8 million in tax revenues.
The mission statement approved by the group reads, “To pursue any and all fiscally relevant issues that impact our quality of life. To notify our elected officials that we will pursue a prioritization of Warwick’s values and goals that maintain a lifestyle our families and businesses can thrive and self-actualize no matter where our pursuits take us!”