FOSTER – No changes were made to the fiscal year 2023-2024 Foster budget at the May 2 Financial Town Meeting, which saw substantial increases in department head salaries with a goal of retaining more town employees.
Some 63 voters at the FTM approved a $16 million budget, with an overall increase of $535,945, or a 2.71 percent increase with the addition of $535,000 from the capital fund balance to the budget.
This will result in a property tax rate on real estate of $22.69 per $1,000 of the assessed value, up from $21.96 last year. The tangible personal property tax will increase to $31.15 per $1,000 of assessed value from $30.15 last year.
The budget was passed for each department, with Town Moderator Robert Boyden leading the meeting and giving time for residents to ask questions about the budget.
During the motion to pass the $1.6 million budget for the Department of Public Works, resident Lynne Rider questioned why the department received a 4.6 percent increase, or a $72,000 bump from the previous year after receiving a significant increase last year.
“We cannot sustain that going forward increases like that. What is the town going to do to slow that down,” Rider asked.
Town Council President Denise DiFranco said Highway Director Gordon Rogers received a significant salary increase, while all other directors received increases in salaries as well. Town Councilor David Paolino said the town was losing good employees due to its low salaries compared to other towns of similar size.
“We don’t have a history of a pay scale that is conducive to drawing people in,” Paolino said.
He said every director across the board received a raise to compete with other towns that draw “really good people” away from Foster. He said it “just so happened” that the highway director was paid a larger sum than other department heads.
“We felt we needed to increase salaries to maintain the staff that we have. As you know, we’ve had some turnover,” DiFranco said.
Former Planning Board member Ron Cervasio said he supported salary raises for several years, and said Foster should pay comparable salaries to other towns.
“We need to pay to keep the people we have and if they leave, get qualified people to replace them,” Cervasio said.
DiFranco said that a new road management firm hired last year that rated which roads need repairs added further cost to the DPW budget, as did a “huge” increase in tipping fees at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. Fees increased from $109,000 to $147,000 DiFranco said, adding that trash removal alone costs $299,000.
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