Mayor to make budget process more inclusive

Posted

Mayor Joseph Solomon is looking to change the budget process so the City Council has a clearer understanding of department needs when it gets his spending proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Solomon recalled as a member of the City Council his first in-depth exposure to the mayor’s budget came during public budget hearings. At the hearings department directors joined the mayor at a table in front of the council to step though the budget for that department and respond to questions from the council and the public.

That won’t change, but Solomon expects the council will have greater insight to his budget proposal and the financial challenges before public budget hearings.

Solomon said he is inviting council members to join him in talks with department directors starting later this month. This would be limited to only one or two council members so as to avoid “rolling hearings” that could be construed as council meetings without proper notification or public access. Solomon thought Ed Ladouceur, council finance committee chair, would be the likely candidate.

The mayor has already given a glimpse of the challenge lying ahead, which simply put is the increasing cost of government and the resources necessary to meet those costs. He has identified a $7.4 million shortfall in the current budget ending June 30 and the potential of an $18 million structural deficit going into the next fiscal year.

Solomon feels a “zero-based” budgeting approach where department directors look at every expense rather than merely applying a percentage increase to their budgets will identify new ways of delivering services and trimming costs. Directors have been asked to prepare two budgets, one using current operations and the second applying a 5 percent cut to expenditures other than salaries.

But can those cuts give the city enough without digging deeper into reserves and/or seeking a waiver of the 4 percent cap on the tax levy? Solomon has said he will not seek a waiver to the levy that would require City Council and General Assembly approval.

So, how much of a hole is the city in?

City Finance Director Brian Silvia said Friday the biggest quandary he faces is the “unknowns.”

The school budget for the current year remains unsolved, although the administration and the schools continue to meet in mediation. Whatever agreement is reached will serve as the starting point for next year’s budget. In addition, nothing is budgeted in the current year for increases in the firefighter’s contract that expired on June 30, 2018. That contract is in interest arbitration.

Asked where city reserves stand, Silvia pointed out that in round figures the city had $22 million in reserves as of June 30, 2017. The 2018 budget drew down $4.2 million and the current budget tapped it for another $3.8 million, which means reserves stand at about $14 million. But this doesn’t take into consideration whatever is needed to reach an agreement for schools this year.

As for what the city could raise in added taxes, Silvia observed that the 4 percent cap is based on what the city taxes, not total revenues flowing into city coffers. With the state phase-out of the motor vehicle tax – those lost revenues are made up by the state – the city levy continues to drop. In the current year it is $238 million, meaning Silvia said that the levy cap for the 2020 budget would be about $8 million.

Revaluation of 41,000 properties as of Dec. 31, 2018 will not affect the levy although, depending on the tax rate, property owners could see their taxes well exceed a 4 percent increase.

Generally, Silvia said in a revaluation a third of the properties see an increase in assessment, a third of the values remain unchanged and a third go down.

As there has been a strong sellers’ market since the prior revaluation three years ago, the overall value of properties has increased. This will result in lower residential and commercial tax rates, but again depending on how the budget plays out and how much an individual’s property assessment has changed will determine their tax bite.

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Hillsgrove Hal

I am glad to see the Beacon directly and clearly explain what happened to the surplus that the city had just two years ago, specifically that the FY18 budget -- which the council passed over Mayor Avedisian's objections because it didn't raise enough revenue -- used $4.2 million of it, and that this year's budget used another $3.8 million despite a maximum tax hike.

As much as Mayor Solomon continues to try and blame the past administration for where the surplus stands (as he did during his state of the city speech), the fact is that he is responsible for the FY18 budget that contributed directly to the current fiscal situation in the city.

We are all going to suffer -- in terms of reduced services and increased taxes -- for decisions he and the council could have made differently.

Tuesday, April 16
Hillsgrove Hal

Correction: "Mayor Avedisian's objections THAT it didn't raise enough revenue..."

Tuesday, April 16
wwkvoter

Not to mention a recession on the way, and retail under pressure. Maybe it will all work out but it looks like Warwick will become a "high tax city" soon.

Tuesday, April 16
Samuel

Hillsgrove Hal you hit the nail right on the head, but you forgot to include the 5 million dollars they built into the budget for additional paving. It seems the council was trying to look good for the voters while at the same time putting the city into a financial hole- probably to hurt Avedisian who they didn't know would be leaving.

Tuesday, April 16
Honestinfo

Is Robbie being consulted on this budget? He has all the numbers, if he doesn’t Merrola will give them to him free of charge.

Tuesday, April 16
Patient Man

It's ridiculous that the discussion isn't whether or not taxes will need to be raised, but if the city will need to seek a waiver on the max raise of 4%. We've had 2 decades of almost every year tax increases. Wage inflation has not kept pace.

Wednesday, April 17
Can't believe it

The illusion continues by a few......the true Avedisian legacy.....3 federal agencies examining the city's books and the city on the verge of bankruptcy.

Wednesday, April 17
wwkvoter

THREE Federal agencies now? WOW, hope they find the truth!

Wednesday, April 17
Jimmy

You are delusional if you think there are ANY federal agents investigating anything. WAKE UP.

Wednesday, April 17
wwkvoter

Jimmy I dont know who to believe. but both our mayor and council president said we have an investigation, and now this person just before I posted said there are THREE agencies (FBI, CIA, ICE? pick any three) investigating. Who to believe? I know that the fire department audit IS PUBLIC INFORMATION, so why isnt Cote, Block, and others demanding a copy of it ???? You say that's because it exonerates the FD, or shows some bad process but no criminal conspiracy, which may well be the case, but why delay its release? It is going to come out anyway! Assuming it shows no wrongdoing as you seem to be thinking, then how long can the mayor, the entire city council, and others keep that PUBLIC INFORMATION a secret? Only an ongoing official investigation can prevent it's release. And it's not being released, AND the usual watch dogs seem ok with that (as well as the Warwick Beacon come to think of it). That all points to an investigation going on. I actually hope you are right that everything is OK or minimal issues, but we dont know do we?

Wednesday, April 17
Paul Wall

Now it’s three federal agencies? lol

This “investigation” reminds me of Bigfoot: everyone’s heard of it, no one has actually seen it.

I hear Interpol is looking into whether the FD uses too much soap when washing the trucks. That’s on top of Scotland Yard looking into whether the FD shakes the printer cartridge before replacing it. Scandal!!!!

Wednesday, April 17
Jimmy

Paul Wall,

These people are so eager to see something happen. Now Rob Cote is claiming “he doesn’t need an audit to prove he’s right” (comment he made on another post). Original the audit was going to vindicate him. Now (since he knows the Audit is not in his favor) he says he doesn’t need it. How long are you people going to follow this idiot. He had done nothing but waste time and money. And you city leaders are making crap up as they go because they are lost. Maybe they are investigating the city. Word travels fast in this city, NO ONE HAS BEEN CONTACTED. It might be time to start realizing what’s going on.

Wednesday, April 17
Can't believe it

The same group that says Scottie did a good job .....incredible....now are disseminating the myth that no federal agencies are reviewing the side deals of Avedisian's administration.

There are 3 federal investigating the city. I know 5 people who have spent hours with them The fire dept. side deals started the inquiry and it has expanded from there.

Wednesday, April 17
Jimmy

Can’t believe it,

Very funny but you sir are full of shit. Nice try though. I got one not buying anything your selling.

Wednesday, April 17
wwkvoter

OK "cant", WHO are the three agencies?

Thursday, April 18
Hillsgrove Hal

wwkvoter, I share your confusion.

On the one hand, I'd like to take the mayor and council president at their word when they talk about investigations.

On the other, they may think that talking about investigations (even if they don't exist) helps them somehow.

Blaming Avedisian will only get them so far, though. They are the ones in charge now, and people are looking to them for leadership.

Thursday, April 18
Jimmy

Leadership means telling the truth. I am completely lost as to why people are making these claims. Do they think that we will all just forget about it. Like I said before. The FBI is not a covert agency. You know they are there. Not once have they been seen at city hall or fire headquarters. Why? Because it’s all made up. I don’t think city leadership though out their strategy. People want to know. The audit is complete, why hide it. There is no investigation that is keeping it hidden. Trust me.

Thursday, April 18
Jimmy

One other point again, Rob Cote for months claimed that the audit would show hundreds of thousands of dollars owed back to the city. Now yesterday he claimes he doesn’t need an audit to prove his facts. Sounds like Council pres gave him a heads up that nothing he claimed was in the audit. How long can they keep the truth hidden.

Thursday, April 18
Hillsgrove Hal

Jimmy, I don't think anyone observing City Hall would be able to tell a plainclothes FBI agent from anyone else going there in a suit.

Unless the FBI is going in on a warrant to get documents or to arrest someone, they don't make a big production out of what they do -- because actually, they are a "covert agency."

If they're gathering information and conducting interviews, they're not going to be visible about it, in other words.

That doesn't address your suggestion that Solomon and Merolla may be lying about it; it's just to point out that the FBI probably isn't showing up at Warwick City Hall with a SWAT team.

Thursday, April 18
Jimmy

We can agree to disagree. If they were in the city we would know

Thursday, April 18
Can't believe it

The federal interviews were conducted away from City Hall....BTW Jimmy...I stand corrected, I know 6 people who were questioned not the 5, I initially stated. The number keeps growing it's hard to keep track.

Thursday, April 18
Jimmy

Of course they were, wink wink. Is that you Rob (can’t believe it)

Thursday, April 18
Hillsgrove Hal

Jimmy, I'm sorry, but this isn't a matter of us having different opinions.

You say "we would know" about an FBI investigation -- and then dismiss the top two city officials saying that there is one.

You haven't provided any support for saying there's no investigation (except that no one has seen FBI agents at City Hall), while the mayor and council president have confirmed that there is.

Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying -- I share your doubts about Solomon and Merolla, I agree that they have an ax to grind with Avedisian, and I agree that it's influencing their behavior.

But that doesn't mean they're lying about the FBI. If anything, their recent statements suggest that they want as much ammunition against Avedisian as they can get (for what reason, I still don't understand), and seem to think that having a federal investigation harms him and helps them.

And to be honest, I would rather not have the feds crawling all over City Hall looking at possibly illegal contract side-deals -- but there's apparently a legitimate reason for them to be investigating potential crimes.

Friday, April 19