Mayor proposes tax cuts, citing COVID impact

Mayor proposes tax cuts, citing COVID impact

WOONSOCKET – After a long and difficult year, city residents and business owners may finally be in for a break in the form of cuts to both residential and commercial taxes.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s 2021-2022 budget proposal, released this week, lowers the residential tax rate from $24 to $23.75 per $1,000 of assessed value ($18 to $17.81 for owner-occupied, single-family homes under the homestead exemption) and the commercial tax rate from $35.24 to 34.75. The reductions work out to 1.1 percent for residential property and 1.4 percent for commercial property.

At the same time, the state’s phase-out of the motor vehicle is set to lower the city’s car taxes from $35 to $30 per $1,000 of assessed value for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Baldelli-Hunt cited the COVID-19 pandemic in her introduction to the budget proposal, explaining that while the city was able to meet its budget this year, many residents and business owners are still hurting financially.

“We approached the fiscal year 2022 budget with the mindset of doing everything possible to relieve our beleaguered taxpayers from some of their property tax burden,” she said.

“Only those expenditures that are needed most to either provide essential services to our residents, particularly those involved with Public Safety, or to move the city forward economically and socially were maintained in this budget,” she added.

According to Baldelli-Hunt, the city benefitted this year from shedding more than $60 million in debt and adding 52 new housing units to its tax rolls. At the same time, contractual increases for police, fire and city employees, increased pension contributions and the return of health care costs that had eased off during the pandemic contributed to a tight budget.

In total, the proposed city expenditures are approximately $129,000 less than what was adopted in the 2021 budget, while the local school contribution is level-funded. With an expected increase in state education funding, the total proposed budget comes to $154.6 million.

Residents can expect a break in their property values following the City Council’s decision to delay the 2020 statistical property revaluation another year. As a result, newly assessed property values will not feature into the tax rolls until 2022.

The budget included many of the same items that Baldelli-Hunt has championed in the past, including an additional $55,000 for road paving and a grant writer for the Planning Department. It also includes $75,000 for blight reduction, $25,000 less than was proposed last year.

Woonsocket expects to receive a windfall somewhere in the range of $70 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, but the budget does not include any specific proposals for that funding yet. According to Baldelli-Hunt, the city has already received $14.2 million, about half of its direct payment over two years, and also expects to receive about $8 million from a separate share allotted to Providence County. The Woonsocket Education Department is expected to receive around $31 million in a separate award.

Baldelli-Hunt said the city still has unanswered questions about how the funds can be used and is examining Woonsocket’s “greatest needs and opportunities that could potentially be funded through APRA.”

She said the city expects to solicit public comment on how best to use the funds.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the 2021-2022 budget on Monday, June 14, at 7 p.m. According to Council President Daniel Gendron, residents will be able to attend the meeting in person in Harris Hall.

Comments

Now it's time for the City Council to hold open public deliberations on the budget instead of the behind closed doors omnibus budget amendments Councilman Cournoyer comes up with that are voted on at the 6/21 meeting.