Woonsocket residential tax rate likely up 5 percent

Woonsocket residential tax rate likely up 5 percent

WOONSOCKET - Both residential and commercial taxes are expected to increase this year under a budget plan unanimously approved by the City Council, but Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt emphasized Monday that things could have been significantly worse for taxpayers.

"What I managed to do is eliminate the trash fee, so you do not get a separate bill and it's all built into the levy. In addition to that, the budget that I presented keeps your homestead exemption," said Baldelli-Hunt.

It is the first budget submission by the new administration, which took charge last December. And while the city's Budget Commission, which has the ultimate say over fiscal matters, has already determined that the Woonsocket's levy must increase by 4 percent every year for the next four years, the mayor said she did her best to lessen the burden.

"The prior Budget Commission created a five-year plan. In that five-year plan there's a 4 percent increase in the levy that's built in each year. That's why this administration is trying to find relief in other areas," Baldelli-Hunt said.

The fiscal plan totals $129.7 million for a total increase of around $2 million and includes no additional local funding for schools in 2015. Residential taxes are slated to increase from $34.56 to $36.44 per thousand. Commercial taxes, currently at $39.81 per thousand would rise to $41.95.

Unlike past city budget hearings, where testimony against proposed hikes continued for hours, few weighed in on the latest round of increases.

Resident Rene Carpentier did tell the council that he thinks the rate hikes need to stop.

"Paying $7,000 a year in taxes is ridiculous. You're wondering why people keep moving out of the city? Because we can't afford it," Carpentier said.

The mayor recommended that council members to bring out their questions about the 133-page document during the Monday afternoon hearing, saying she would not be able to attend their regular meeting later that evening.

Acting Finance Director Christine Chamberland navigated many of the explanations.

"There was a surplus built in to the previous year's budget," Chamberland said. According to the document, some $1.1 million will carry over from the last fiscal year.

The mayor said she was able to eliminate the $96 trash fee thanks to savings from consolidation of dispatch services for the police and fire department, and reduction of some expenditures.

The budget also includes around $475,000 to be set aside for capital improvements. The administration has devised a new five-year capital plan to address equipment and facility needs, which is currently awaiting state approval.

"We really should have more in there, but we're limited in what we can put in without pulling from other areas," said Baldelli-Hunt. "It's been too much neglect over the years."

New expenditures include the salary for a grant applications writer, whose work will be split between City Hall, the Police and Fire departments, and school administration.

"We're finding that we have been very successful in acquiring grants. Unfortunately there are a lot of grants out there that we are not able to apply for because we do not have somebody to do grant writing," Baldelli-Hunt said.

Councilor Melissa Murray asked if the plan anticipated a tax payment from Landmark Medical Center. The facility became the state's first for-profit hospital when it was purchased by Prime Health Services in December and legislation is pending in the General Assembly that would ensure the city has the right to collect annual payments.

Taxes from the hospital are not included in the current budget. The mayor said that Prime intends to contribute and her expectation is that once the legislation passes it will receive a bill.

Baldelli-Hunt emphasized that the 4 percent levy increase will not equate to a 4 percent increase on individual tax bills.

Rates are divided into residential, commercial, tangible and motor vehicle taxes and the four categories contribute to the overall levy. The planned residential increase adds up to around 5 percent, or an increase of $157 a year for a single family home worth $120,000, once the homestead exemption is factored in.

Tax Assessor Christopher Celeste pointed out that final rates could change somewhat as the details become fully approved.

Council President Albert Brien asked if the figure for state aid to education - $49,848,776 - included both the incremental increase from the phase in of the education funding formula and the amount expected from implementing a full day kindergarten plan. The figure, he said, did not appear to include both.

"I don't have that number in front of me. I'll give all of that breakdown tomorrow morning," said Supt. Giovanna Donoyan.

The council's vote on the document came later that night at its regular meeting, where the budget was confirmed 7-0.

The proposal must still go before the Budget Commission for final and is expected to be placed on the June 18 agenda.

Comments

The idiots at the state house will soon deliver the Sakonnet Bridge tax to every driver in Woonsocket. Just another reason to leave.