NORTH KINGSTOWN—On the evening of Wednesday, May 1, the town council spent nearly three hours discussing potential reductions and the town’s financial stability moving forward into the next fiscal year. The council approved approximately $520,000 in cuts to the fiscal year 2014 proposed budget, which totals nearly $97.5 million, in order to make additional tax increases less burdensome on North Kingstown residents.
The overall FY 2014 budget figures for individual funds break down as follows: General Fund $26.4 million; Debt Service, $6 million; Library Fund $1.5 million; Quonset/Davisville Recreation Fund $1.8 million; School Fund, $58.4 million; Water Fund $3.1 million; and Municipal Court Fund $262,313.
The council’s debate centered around different sources within the current budget for reductions and ultimately agreeing on a number of measures that have been discussed over the past several weeks.
The $520,000 in reductions consists of first $225,000 for road improvements which will not be budgeted, but taken from the town’s Undesignated Fund Balance. $200,000 will be taken from positions in the fire department which, according to Town Manager Michael Embury, can be cut because they were never intended to be filled.
“The $200,000 [accounts for] unnecessary bodies under there, over and above the three-platoon system,” said Embury. “They are extra positions, but no one would be losing their job.”
The council will also take $70,000 from the Allen Harbor Undesignated Fund Balance and $25,000 from the Debt Service Undesignated Fund Balance.
The tax increase reductions will now bring a tax levy increase of 1.63 percent, down from the previously proposed 2.95 percent. Residents will thus see an approximate $90 overall yearly increase for the average $315,000 home.
The tax rate is estimated to be $18.84 per $1,000 assessed tax dollars, although that number will not be finalized until the state completes its grand list at the end of June.
Council members debated whether or not to remove the school department’s proposal of a one percent pay increase to cover increased teacher wage and pension costs. Dolan reiterated her position from the April 29 meeting of allowing the pay increase to stand.
“With that one percent built into their budget and because we have negotiated contracts with pay increases with our public unions, I expressed my reticence to take that out of the budget,” said Dolan. “I don’t have to be right.”
The council further discussed its concerns regarding its Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability, which currently stands at $30 million for North Kingstown. Communities throughout the state have been hamstrung financially because their OPEB obligations have skyrocketed while their ability to pay has dropped.
“If we have to report OPEB next year, that is a big problem,” said Councilman Kerry McKay. “Next year is the big year when that $30 million gets thrown right into our budget.”
“Starting in this next year, we need to come up with more money to put into our OPEB,” said Town Council President Elizabeth Dolan. “We have no choice.”
Acting Finance Director Patricia Sunderland suggested to the council that it could draft an ordinance in the upcoming fiscal year that would tap into the town’s General Fund surplus through a set percentage in order to pay for OPEB liabilities.
Although the budget has been approved, the public can appeal the council’s decision through a petition for a referendum. At least 100,000 resident signatures would have to sign off on such a petition in order to bring a referendum to the public for a vote, according to Town Clerk Jeannette Alyward.
The council voted unanimously to approve the budget last Wednesday evening.
At Monday evening’s brief regular meeting, the town council voted to pass a resolution opposing Senate and House bills which would remove town jurisdiction, such as planning and zoning decision-making power, over the siting of renewable energy structures, including wind turbines.
Council members debated the specific language of the resolution, specifically whether the reference to scientific studies regarding the impact of wind turbine projects on surrounding communities would be necessary.
The council also held a first reading Monday evening of an amendment to the Code of Ordinances, Chapter 11, ‘Motor Vehicles and Traffic.’
The change would exempt property owners from the town’s prohibition of parking cars for the purpose of selling.
“Motor vehicles owned, operated or maintained by the commercial property owner, store or business are exempt,” read the amendment.
A public hearing on the amendment change will be heard on May 20.
The council further received a letter of resignation from Harriet Powell, who is leaving her post on the Asset Management Commission,. Powell, who is also a member of the Planning Commission, noted in her letter that she does not feel it necessary for a Planning Commission member to serve on the AMC.
“During the time I served on the AMC, there was no understanding that I update my fellow Planning Commission members on what transpired at AMC meetings,” read Powell’s letter. “Furthermore, my Planning Commission experience provided value that was limited by the AMC’s wide-ranging charge.”
Dolan thanked Powell for her service and suggested that the town council discuss the make-up of the AMC at a future town council meeting.