Citing ‘foolish spending,’ two budget board members resign in No. Smithfield

Citing ‘foolish spending,’ two budget board members resign in No. Smithfield

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Just days after the Town Council approved a budget relying heavily on recommendations from Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, two of the four members of the budget board have submitted letters of resignation.

Both cite a budget process they say was in violation of the Town Charter, uninformed spending choices, and a decision by councilors to ignore many of their recommendations.

Ezovski defended the process this week, noting that the council did take some of the board’s recommendations and saying that the loss of the town’s finance director made it a difficult year for fiscal planning.

Budget Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Alves, pictured left, and Secretary Matt Dwyer, pictured right, submitted their resignation letters on Thursday, July 6. They said their volunteer budget team met weekly since February to devise a 2018 town spending plan, but it was a flawed process from the start. Finance Director Jason Parmelee resigned in February, and the normally five-member board was operating with four members. Ezovski, they said, never submitted a finalized budget, complicating the process.

“Every week, we would be presented with a new budget, with new numbers, which violated the town charter,” said Dwyer.

A licensed certified public accountant with experience at two large accounting firms, Dwyer works as a senior internal auditor.

“I personally took the stance I was fighting for two things, the betterment of the town and the protection of the taxpayers,” he wrote.

Alves, a former Town Council member who has also served on past budget boards, said her term on the board this time, which began early this year following resignations from all of the previous year’s members, was “disappointing.”

“The primary goal was to give the taxpayers peace of mind that there was nothing frivolous in the budget, and that is what we turned in, a tight, but workable budget with very little dependency on the taxpayers of North Smithfield,” she wrote. “I cannot believe that no one on the Budget Committee received any calls or questions from the council.”

The two budget board members point to specific council decisions in their move to resign, including the vote to place $435,000 in a contingency account. The move was promoted by the administrator as a means to increase the town’s reserves and long-term ability to borrow funds for large infrastructure projects. Spending decisions from contingency, they noted, however, are made at the council’s descretion, providing no assurance that the money will stay in place.

Salaries were also a point of contention for the two resigning members. Ezovski led an effort to increase compensation for key employees as a means to retain leadership, and while some councilors derided the plan, several of his recommendations were passed, including a 24.15 percent increase for the town’s building inspector.

Dwyer described the council’s decision to put all of the town’s capital spending into municipal projects as a “disgusting, relentless attack on the School Department.” Budgeters had recommended spending $375,000 on the school capital projects, but the council ultimately dedicated the entire $892,525 capital budget to improvements for town facilities.

“It is truly shocking how much your council ignored the Budget Committee at almost all areas,” Dwyer wrote. “The arrogance and lack of willingness to hear other perspectives by this administration is truly insulting for both the budget committee members and the taxpayers of the town.”

The budgeters noted that at a meeting in May, Ezovski said he “had the votes,” to get his plan passed.

“From what it appears, we should have just stopped our work then, because he was stating the facts,” Alves wrote.

Asked to comment on the letters, Ezovski said that it was a previous council’s decision not to increase the finance director’s salary that left him short-handed at the start of the budget process.

“There is little anyone could have done to mitigate some of the frustration all have experienced,” he said. “Over the course of this effort, my office provided every bit of information that was available at any time in the process.”

Regarding his comment about having the votes to support two salary adjustments Ezovski said, “I regret the committee‘s reaction, but I will always hope to be as clear as I can in emphasizing my advocacy for any matter that I see as important to the operation and success of the town.”

He noted that some of the council’s decisions were influenced by the Budget Committee.

“I established early on with direction to our department leaders that my objective was to achieve a budget that resulted in a 2 percent impact on overall spending,” Ezovski said. “We, meaning my staff, the budget committee and the council, accomplished that. I believe we also strengthened our ability to maintain good leadership in key positions that will ultimately translate to higher value.”

He said that funds put in contingency will help the town to address “overwhelming” infrastruture needs.

“Some of our students are in unacceptable learning environments. Some of our residents don’t have appropriate water supply. Some of our facilities are in disrepair and need substantial attention. The budget the council adopted, after all the input provided, is structured to deal with as many of these matters as possible.”

“Many are disappointed in the process,” Ezovski said. “Those who keep working on it are those who will make the future difference.”

But at least for now, it seems Alves and Dwyer will not be among those volunteers.

“I believe those of you who ignored our recommendations made a mistake and now the tax payers will pay when their next tax bill comes due in August,” Dwyer wrote. “I can only hope the residents of this great town will respond in kind to your terrible decisions at the voting booth next election.”

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Welcome to North Smithfield where "All politics is local" Thomas P "Tip" O'Neill,Jr.(1912-1994).