NARRAGANSETT—After the proposed FY 2012-13 town budget was presented to the public at Monday’s regular meeting, the Town Council will now go about reviewing the budget and its monetary allotments. The Council, along with Town Manager Grady Miller, scheduled multiple work sessions throughout the week, and listened to department heads regarding their accomplishments, goals, and budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I am very pleased, and Finance Director [Donald Goodrich], the department heads and myself did a super job of sharpening our pencils,” said Miller on Monday. “We are submitting not only a balanced budget, but one which provides for the community’s needs.”
The proposed budget totals $51,411,681 for operating and capital expenses, and increase of $803,432 from the current fiscal budget. Annual debt obligations, both from general obligations bonds issued by the town and $21.5 million in school bonds approved by voters in 2009, are estimated at $2,219,278 for FY 2012-13. The largest revenues supporting the proposed budget will be provided from current property tax levies, which total $45,096,207 of the total proposed budget.
On Wednesday evening, department heads from Community Development, Building Inspection, and the Town Clerk’s Office presented progress and challenges which have been faced over the past year. The budgets of a number of boards and commissions, including the Planning and Zoning Boards and the Conservation Commission, were discussed as well.
The two largest presentations were from Michael DeLuca, Director of Community Development, and Finance Director Donald Goodrich. DeLuca listed a number of accomplishments, including the completion of the town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan on-time and on-budget, as well as the submission of Community Development Block Grants from a number of social service providers this year, totaling $200,000 in requested funding.
DeLuca also noted that the update for the town’s Comprehensive Plan has commenced, the completion of which will be the primary focus of the Department of Community Development. Furthermore, DeLuca hopes to produce a geo-referencing system for the Tax Assessor database, which does not currently provide a digital, cartographic link for properties throughout Narragansett.
“The one project we want to initiate but have been holding up on because it is a very large project is the update of the Tax Assessor’s database,” said DeLuca. “The only piece in our system that is not-geo referenced is the Tax Assessor’s database, and we want to hire a consultant to bring [property] lines closer to a match, within five feet of being accurate throughout the town. That was held off and we hope to do it sometime in the upcoming fiscal year.”
Building Inspector Anthony Santilli, Jr. suggested to the Town Council as one of that department’s goals to increase the rental registration fee from $50 to $100. Last fall, the Town Council approved a new ordinance which increased the late fee for property owners who need to register their rental homes with the town. Santilli stated that, although only a small number of property owners have failed to pay registration fees, six cases remain outstanding.
“We had a pretty good collection rate, and there were 13 we took to court, which some of them paid,” said Santilli. “Others told the judge they couldn’t pay, so he gave them a time period and pay by a certain point or go back to court.”
“We know they’re registered, but they didn’t pay, and we’ve sent phone calls, three letters, and emails, so it is not like they weren’t notified,” he added. “They say, ‘I forgot,’ at court or ‘I sent the check to the wrong place’. You get people say that we are already overtaxed, and some said that they weren’t renting, I sent a person out there and they are renting, so come on.”
According to Santilli, the increased registration fee would generate $125,000 on the year in revenues for the town. He also suggested that the town place a lien on properties which continuously fail to pay for their rental registration fees.
“We have taken a number of people to court that are from out-of-state and tough to track down,” said Santilli. “I probably want to petition to have the Town Council amend the rental registration ordinance so we can lien these properties with the fine plus interest. That would be a way to make delinquent people pay.”
“I don’t think we will see the number next year what we saw this year,” said Miller. “I hate placing liens on properties, but for those real hard cases for people refusing to pay a $50 fee, they just don’t want to have to pay it. A lot of these people that didn’t pay are those who paid previously, but were habitually late.”
Town Council members expressed their concern about increasing fees during the current economic downturn, as well as recently increased scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union, representatives of which have criticized the town for placing draconian penalties on renters in town.
“You will definitely attract the attention of the ACLU with these ordinances,” said Councilman Christopher Wilkens.
“At this point, I don’t we should be increasing it until we look at it closer,” said Councilman David Crook.
The Town Council held another work session on Thursday evening.