Budget troubles in North Smithfield

Budget troubles in North Smithfield

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget Monday night turned into a debate over prior town policy dating back several years as residents and policy makers attempted to point fingers over the town’s current budget predicament.

The $44.9 million budget proposed by the Budget Committee would result in a 3.13 percent increase in the tax levy, a slighter smaller number than the $45 million budget and 3.93 percent levy increase recommended by Town Administrator Gary Ezovski.

The tax rates proposed in the town administrator’s budget include a 90-cent decrease per thousand dollars of assessed value for residential property and a $1 decrease for commercial property from the current rates. However, with the average residential property increasing in value by 18 percent and commercial properties increasing by 6 percent following the last revaluation, many homeowners can expect to see increases on their tax bills even with the lower rates.

Despite the increase in residential and commercial property values, the town is experiencing a sharp drop in tax revenue from tangible property, with the overall assessed value of tangible property in town decreasing by nearly $20 million next budget cycle. Combined with the nonprofit conversion of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island and a drop in the amount of state aid to schools, the decrease has town officials looking at fewer options to balance next year’s budget.

The drop in tangible tax is due at least in part to a project undertaken by National Grid several years to upgrade its infrastructure in town. As a result, the taxable value of the infrastructure increased, and the amount of tangible property tax collected by the town skyrocketed, increasing from $2.2 million in 2010 to $6.2 million 2014. With those upgrades finished and their value depreciating, tangible tax revenue has begun to drop back toward its previous levels.

At the time, town officials opted to absorb those funds into the general operating budget and used them to pay off bonds for school and road projects, a decision that drew criticism from Town Council President Paul Vadenais Monday night.

“It’s creating a structural deficit in your budget every year that you go forward, and the only way to fill it is on the backs of the residential taxpayers,” he said.

Former Budget Committee members Mike Rapko and Michael Clifford both took issue with Vadenais’ characterization of the problem, saying it was decisions made by later town and school officials, and not the prior Budget Committee, that resulted in the challenges now facing the town.

“If anyone’s responsible for the current mess that we’re in now, it’s the current leadership,” said Clifford.

Regardless of where the blame lies, the tight budget drew several department representatives to the middle school cafeteria Monday night to air their concerns about potential cuts. These included School Committee Chairman James Lombardi, who cautioned that, despite a recommended 2.48 percent increase in the local appropriation, the proposed budget could lead to cuts in several school positions due to a drop in state aid and the rising costs of salaries, out-of-district tuition and special education.

“The way the budget stands today, we’re looking at an additional $452,241 in cuts,” he said.

Lombardi asked the Town Council to add an extra $150,000 to the Budget Committee’s and town administrator’s recommendations, which would amount to a 3.24 percent local increase for the schools. The extra funds, he said, would be used to add a math interventionist back into the middle school budget along with one additional position.

The council also heard from North Smithfield Police Capt. Tim Lafferty, who requested the town contribute at least half the $51,600 cost of replacing portable radios for all officers. He also requested the town fully fund the department’s new Explorer youth program at $20,000 instead of the $4,000 recommended by the Budget Committee, a cost he said would cover uniforms, training for the officers in charge of the program and a stay at the Rhode Island Army National Guard’s Camp Varnum.

“We feel it’s a very important part of our police department to start bridging the gap with the younger citizens of North Smithfield,” he said.

Councilors also heard from residents who spoke in favor of a $14,000 flood study of Cherry Brook recommended by Ezovski and the Budget Committee. The flooding, they said, is an ongoing issue that has affected houses around the waterway for several years.

Vadenais told The Breeze councilors will consider both the tax rates as well as the overall budget during the next budget meeting. The council is scheduled to consider the budget on June 24.

Comments

I strongly suggest town residents take the time to watch the video of the Budget Hearing. Mr. Vadenais and Administrator Ezovski have repeatedly alluded to mistakes made by “previous leadership” as the reason for our current financial situation. They are indirectly referencing former Town Administrator Hamilton, two prior Budget Committees and two prior Town Councils. I contend their statements are absolutely untrue and they are attempting to deflect criticism from their own actions.

Furthermore, it’s my belief that the town’s finances are going to worsen rapidly as a result of votes cast my some Town Council members in support of actions recommended by Town Administrator Ezovski and Council President Vadenais. I’ll be posting documents on my Facebook page” Cliff Notes by Mike Clifford” over the next few weeks which will support my claims. The link to meeting videos is below. Videos of this week’s Budget Hearing are not up yet, but they are normally posted within a week, so please keep checking.
https://bit.ly/2gJV1lt

Mike Clifford

We are only as good as our budget/taxes. When will residents understand we cant have all the big city services and we don't want them. This is just the beginning of High Taxes In North Smithfield.

The solution to the budget is very easy and increasing taxes is not the answer. The solution is to free all wages and hiring. The state law allows for lack of funding related to union contracts. If we freeze and tighten spending we would avoid any increase. I know of many places where to cut and save funds that are unpopular but necessary so I won't detail out the simple plan that leadership continues to ignore. The current leadership continues to fail to make the tough decisions that are necessary because they can not stomach the disapproval of a few groups. People are elected to make the tough decisions not the will of some small groups.

Why do our leaders sit at the table and avoid what Mr.Clifford is saying? All hands should be on deck because we are sinking!