No. Smithfield adopts $37.7 million budget

No. Smithfield adopts $37.7 million budget

School Department receives nearly $500,000 less than requested, with sports in municipal fund

NORTH SMITHFIELD - The Town Council has approved a budget with spending of $1.5 million more than last year, but the only increase for the School Department will be $240,000 dedicated solely for sports, leaving some proponents of increased education spending unhappy.

The $37,785,879 spending plan includes some funding for roadway improvements, increases for the police department, small raises for some municipal employees and pay for a new part-time zoning inspector. As a result, the town will need to raise $968,981 more in tax revenue.

But thanks to the addition of new businesses such as development in Dowling Village, and infrastructure improvements by National Grid that will bring in an extra $2 million for the tax rolls, most residential taxpayers will see a slight decrease on their bill.

The budget was ratified during a five-hour meeting Thursday night that included plenty of debate and controversy, and a surprise late-night pizza order for the crowd by Councilor Thomas McGee.

Objections to the process began early on, with Councilor Edward Yazbak stating that he felt the council should wait until the state approved a budget to finalize the town's spending plan.

"We're one of the few communities that has yet to adopt a budget," replied Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton.

The state budget, which at the time had only been approved by the House Finance Committee, was expected to be voted on in the full House on Wednesday, June 26, after The Breeze's print deadline.

Yazbak then asked if he could present an analysis he'd done regarding the revaluation and five potential scenarios for the resetting of taxes.

"It's just a helpful thing," said Yazbak. "I'd take 15 minutes to explain it."

Town Assessor Tammy Boss said she would not be comfortable with having such a discussion.

"We're intimately familiar with every aspect of the revaluation and the impact it will have," she said. "I don't feel I would be doing the town justice rendering an opinion on numbers I just received prior to the meeting. I do see some discrepancies."

Yazbak said he'd received all of his information from Boss's supervisor, the finance director, and began discussing one of the scenarios.

Boss asked the solicitor and Council President Flaherty to rule on whether or not she should be engaging the councilor in the conversation, which, she pointed, was not on the agenda.

"I'm only a CPA with 32 years experience," said Yazbak, as the council moved on to budget discussion.

Yazbak would vote "no" on every line item for the remainder of the evening.

"I don't see how you can set a budget without even knowing what the tax effect is and at least identifying it," said Yazbak. "Someone could easily come in here, very easily, and propose a scenario that would give residential taxpayers a 13 percent reduction on their tax rate, if people wanted to listen. But people don't want to listen, so I will sit here tonight and I will vote no. This has been an orchestrated event for six months. Why don't we just do it in total and be done with it? If that's where we're going to end up, is the Budget Committee's recommendation, somebody have the testicle fortitude to make the vote right now."

Flaherty responded "I don't think that's how it's going to go."

As the council members took on the 17 page document line-by-line, they often adopted the administrator's budget proposals rather than the pared-down version submitted by the budget board. On many items, they compromised between the two, landing somewhere in the middle. On items such as the town's public library, where level funding has been the norm for the past several years, both the budget board and later, the council, exceeded the administrator's recommendation.

North Smithfield High School teacher Natalie O'Brien's request for $3,600 in funding for "We the People," an annual competition testing government knowledge in which the students travel to Washington, DC, was approved as a line item under "Grants and Contributions." The Council also boosted funding for RSVP and Friends of the North Smithfield Animal Shelter.

For the Highway Department, the board approved $200,000 for road resurfacing, again exceeding requests by both the town and the Budget Committee. Around $25,000 is expected to be dedicated to an engineering study to identify the roads in town most in need of repair.

When all was said and done, the council had planned for more spending than both proposals, exceeding Hamilton's budget by $20,000 and the committee's by $225,000.

The largest gap between a department's request and the town's allocation was in funding for schools. The School Department received only $17,976,868 of the $18,695,943 they asked for, and for the first time ever, an additional $240,000 on the municipal side of the budget was set aside for sports, to be transferred to the department only when, and if, they choose to run the programs. And while the department had not noted the additional revenue they receive, such as Medicaid and facility rental income in their budget request, the final figure approved by the Council identified some $250,000 more in department funding.

Yazbak and McGee voted in the minority against a resolution to approve a total of $23,604,654 for schools, a figure that included everything from Medicaid to group home tuition and still fell short of the request by around $458,000. The $240,000 contingency allotment for sports would be the district's only gain.

A crowd of teachers and parents who had sat through most of the meeting to hear the outcome for schools left muttering angry words at 11:30 p.m.

"Unbelievable," said one woman.

"We can't say anything?" asked an upset parent.

Flaherty replied that the meeting was not a public hearing.

"We're not going to give the schools anywhere near close to what they want," said Yazbak, clearly frustrated with the process. "We're going to spend all sorts of money and not take care of our children."

Budget Committee Chair Michael Clifford said the $240,000 increase was one of the highest in the state.

"I'm surprised by the attitudes of some," he said.