Mayor says ‘prudent’ Woonsocket budget cuts taxes, improves services

Mayor says ‘prudent’ Woonsocket budget cuts taxes, improves services

But some council members say package is not lean enough

WOONSOCKET – With disputes over city staffing and control over finances raising tensions between Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and members of the City Council, the budget process that began this week could be a contentious one, as two factions in Woonsocket government debate how to best allocate city resources.

Baldelli-Hunt submitted a plan for the upcoming fiscal year this week that would bring down the tax rate for residential and commercial property owners for the second straight year while increasing investment in certain services, both made possible by strategic investment and debt reduction, said the mayor.

The $140.8 million spending package would see residential property taxes cut by 3.14 percent, a change that would amount to a reduction of $112 on a owner-occupied single-family home assessed at $150,000. Commercial rates, meanwhile, would be reduced by about 1 percent.

The budget would also double the tax exemptions for war veterans and widows and widowers of war veterans to $158.76 from $79.38.

The mayor has also proposed spending increases in some categories, such as road improvement and public safety, and her plan would see continued investment in parks and blight reduction.

“We have demonstrated that through prudent budgeting we can reduce the tax burden upon our hardworking residents, while still improving city services by investing in key sectors of the community,” Baldelli-Hunt noted in a budget introduction provided to the City Council this week. “By keeping our financial house in order, we are able in this budget to improve the quality of life for all residents.”

But City Council President Daniel Gendron says he has noted some line items that could be reduced, an early indication that the document will be the subject of intense scrutiny by council members, many of whom disagree with the mayor on key issues.

“At first glance, I have already identified some changes I will be proposing,” said Gendron. “It’s a good start, but we can make it a lot better.”

While Gendron is hesitant to identify specifics until further digesting the 148-page budget proposal, he said “some” line items can be reduced “to make for a leaner, more fiscally responsible budget, that will make for a better situation for the taxpayers.”

“I know that we can make some additional savings,” he said.

Councilor James Cournoyer, meanwhile, pointed to some proposed staff additions in the mayor’s fiscal plan, including an economic development director and a business coordinator.

“There are some things that are going to change if I have my way,” he said.

The proposal continues to fund the position of public relations coordinator currently held by Blake Collins, a $49,000-a-year job council members voted to defund in March. On Monday, the same night the proposal was presented, councilors questioned how Collins continued to be on the payroll.

“It is almost defiance of what we are trying to do,” said Councilor Jon Brien after he was told that Collins is still being paid from the same account. “At this point, why don’t we all just pack it up and go home because it appears no matter what we do there is an end around.”

Cournoyer said that decision will likely affect his approach to 2018’s fiscal plan.

“I have not had a chance to review it in detail, however, given the administration’s actions of late with respect to thumbing their noses at the council’s recent appropriation ordinances,” he said. “I would suggest that the administration should expect that the council will take a vastly different approach to the FY 2018 budget as compared to what they have been accustomed to over the past three years.”

The council will go through the process and hear from the public at a hearing in late May before making any final decisions, said Cournoyer.

The proposed change of Landmark Medical Center back from a for-profit to a nonprofit facility will not impact city finances in the upcoming year, according to the mayor. The hospital paid $1.6 million in taxes in 2016, but a proposed conversion currently under review by the state Department of Health could return the facility’s tax-exempt status, active before Prime Health Services acquired it in 2013.

"Any potential change in Landmark’s tax status would not have an impact upon their 2017 tax bill. Any potential change would likely factor into the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget, which would encompass 2018 tax bills," Baldeli-Hunt told The Breeze.

A public hearing on the city budget will be held on Wednesday, May 31, before it is taken up by the council for a series of work sessions. Final decisions on the budget must be made by the end of June for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

Editor's note: The above article has been edited from its original version to reflect the mayor's comments regarding Landmark Medical Center, which were not available as of press time.

Comments

The city has been on the come up for 4 years in a row now ALL under the guidance of our current Mayor and Administraion. The obviously know what they are doing and how to do it! Why is this council getting in the way and trying to do it 'their way'.

Does anyone else notice that the council is trying to fire / defund anyone they see that 'helps' the mayor? First it was Marcello, then it was moving money around in the budget to make the Mayor's job mnore difficult and now they are playing chess with Mr. Collins who is a kid in his 20s that the Mayor obviously sees a need for (it's her call as to how/who should help her move the city forward).

Woonsocket sees the obstruction and next election will surely prove it. It's just a matter of time.

The budget just crossed the 140 million dollar mark. Keeps going up, constantly, year after year. What happens when the state cuts funding again?

Better hope we don't get another recession, ever.

Let's not get off topic. The council is purposely trying, I repeat trying, to handcuff the Mayor and her administration to make their jobs harder. In turn, they are taking their vengeance out on the citizens of Woonsocket.

But back to your comment..Have you ever heard of inflation? Time value of money? College education never topped the $20,000/yr mark but now it's 'normally' $40k-$50k/yr. Milk used to cost $0.25/gal and now its around $3.00. Welcome to the real world.

PS - Before your rebuttal, for the record, I'm not attributing it solely to inflation
PPS - The world isn't flat

Woonded,
Here is one of your gems from the past: "The council thinks they know more than the state's fiscal financial advisor Paul Luba and voted against his advice of not slashing the amount of money we did to the city's healthcare account".

Don't worry, no one will hold their breath waiting for you to acknowledge that the Council was right and the Mayor/Administration was wrong.

The ONLY thing the Mayor has proven herself competent at is SPENDING other people's money.

When, for Political reasons, she was saying NO to the Administration and the state's fiscal advisors that were calling first for a $6 million Supplemental Tax increase and then a $2.5 million Supplemental Tax increase, we didn't hear you complaining that she was trying to hand-cuff the then Mayor and his administration.

The current Council is doing their job. You seem to think we have a Queen and we are all her subjects. Those days are over. So get over it.