Tax rates drop for city homeowners in proposed 2019 budget

Tax rates drop for city homeowners in proposed 2019 budget

WOONSOCKET – The property tax rate in the city will drop by as much as 20 percent in fiscal year 2019 following the recent revaluation, according to a proposed fiscal year 2019 budget released by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

The $144 million budget signifies no increase in city expenditures over the current fiscal year, with a slight increase in education expenses met with a corresponding increase in state and other outside funding sources.

A public hearing on the budget will be hosted by the City Council next Thursday, May 31, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Following the 2017 property revaluation, residential property values in the city increased by an average of 14.2 percent and commercial property values increased by an average of 16.7 percent, a jump Baldelli-Hunt said begins to reclaim property values from before the housing market crash and make the city a more desirable place to live.

“The value of people’s property went up, the tax rate comes down, so by the tax rate coming down, it encourages people to look at our community when they’re considering becoming a homeowner,” she said.

According to the proposed budget, the residential real estate tax rate will decrease from $30.10 to $24.08 per $1,000, or 20 percent, and the commercial real estate tax rate will decrease from $36.93 to $36.19 per $1,000, or 2 percent. Baldelli-Hunt said 83 percent of homeowners, and 38 percent of commercial property owners, can expect their taxes to decrease or remain the same.

“We’re in a good position because you can purchase a home, generally speaking, and it will cost you less to purchase in Woonsocket than in surrounding communities,” she said.

“It’s very common after revaluation that there’s a change in taxation across the board,” she added. “Oftentimes, the people who see the increase are the ones who have done renovations to their homes.”

Much of the budget emphasizes making the city more desirable to homeowners and business owners, with increases in public works, police and city personnel reflecting a focus on infrastructure and services.

For the third year in a row, Baldelli-Hunt has proposed the establishment of a director of economic development, a position she cut upon taking office in 2013 that she says is ready to be returned to the city. The director would serve as a point person for business owners looking to move into the city as well as a contact for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

“People are looking at Woonsocket as a place to invest, whether it’s new construction of single-family homes, whether it’s purchasing vacant buildings on Diamond Hill Road, whether it is opportunities that are available to municipalities,” she said.

The mayor has also once again proposed the hiring of a deputy chief of police, a position eliminated prior to her taking office. Baldelli-Hunt said the position will increase public safety, improve communication with the department and place the city on par with similar-sized communities around the state.

“We’re the sixth largest community in the state of Rhode Island. There’s a lot that happens in an urban community,” she said. “It is uncommon not to have a second-in-command.”

The increase in police spending will also include new equipment, the hiring of two new officers and the return of motorcycles to the force. While the proposed budget does not include an increase for the fire department, Baldelli-Hunt said that department is also in the process of incrementally replacing outdated equipment over several years through a combination of grants and in-house spending.

“When you don’t budget responsibly and you don’t purchase responsibly, you end up with this end-of-life situation. You can’t expect that you can just wait and buy 15 cruisers in one year or three rescues in one year,” she said.

Under public works, the budget includes an increase in spending for upgrades at Globe, Cass and other city parks, solid waste spending that accounts for increases in recycling and landfill costs and continued energy upgrades at city buildings. The budget also includes $700,000 for continuation of the city’s in-house road paving program. The mayor said the city has paved about three dozen roads, all at a savings to what it would cost to hire an outside contractor.

The mayor said she also hopes to establish the position of chief of staff, a position that, like the director of economic development, she says will improve communication between her administration and the business community and the community at large.

“You can’t lose out on opportunities. People are calling a city, they want an answer,” she said.

The budget also includes increases in pension plan contributions and approximately $15.2 million to pay off municipal debt. Baldelli-Hunt noted that since 2013, outstanding general obligation and enterprise debt has decreased from approximately $250 million to about $190 million, debt in place prior to her coming into office.

Though no single large cut was made to account for the increases in city personnel and public works spending, rather a redistribution of funds from various departments, Baldelli-Hunt noted the city must begin planning for the potential loss of tax revenue from the nonprofit conversion of Landmark Medical Center, which could significantly impact the city budget as early as next year. She emphasized efforts to increase other sources of tax revenue through the growth of the city’s business community and said she and other municipal leaders have joined in a legislative effort, currently being held for further study in the House Finance Committee, to require the hospital to continue paying for-profit tax rates after its conversion.