COVENTRY — The Coventry Town Council this week began to review the town manager’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 municipal budget, a $112.5 million spending plan that calls for a 3.95 percent increase in property taxes.
Following a pair of public hearings early next month, the Town Council will adopt a budget later in May to be presented to voters during an all-day referendum in June.
After the level funding of 2021, the tax increase proposed in 2022 will be necessary to “maintain our current level of service without falling further behind,” Town Manager Benjamin Marchant said during Monday’s council meeting.
In the weeks since he became Coventry’s town manager, Marchant said he and Finance Director Lisa Mills, who is also new to the town, have spent a lot of time meeting with each department head to review their budget needs, especially in the midst of a level-funded year.
Of the total proposed budget, $34.3 million is allocated to municipal expenditures, while $78.1 million would go to schools.
Among the budget changes that Marchant pointed out to councilors Monday was an overall increase to the town’s libraries of $83,425, due mostly to salary increases that he said would “recognize the value of having employees with master’s degrees.”
“They should be making a competitive wage,” Marchant said. “For the level of service that we want to continue to provide, we’re hoping to reduce the level of turnover.”
He added that employee turnover is a “hidden expense” that can’t be reflected in a budget.
Town Council President Ann Dickson also shared concerns over employee turnover, adding that she appreciates that the budget includes raises for department directors.
“We are losing very, very good people very quickly once they get here,” Dickson said. “We’re losing a lot of valuable time with all this turnover.”
Marchant also noted that much of what was cut in 2021 from the Parks and Recreation Department’s expenditures was restored in the proposed 2022 budget — the budget includes a $1.07 million budget for the department, compared to $847,755 this year — while the department’s revenues have been increased by the same amount in anticipation of offering more programming as pandemic restrictions ease.
The budget includes a $300,000 increase — $500,000 in total — for the town’s Capital Improvements Program, as well. The funds aren’t allocated to any specific projects, but Public Works Director Kevin McGee listed numerous capital projects that need funding.
For example, McGee said, he every year has requested $1.25 million for town-wide road and sidewalk resurfacing.
“We have not had funds appropriated for major projects since the 2014 infrastructure bond was passed,” he continued.
After hearing from the town manager, the Town Council began this week to work through the individual departments, hearing from Police Chief Frederick Heise before deciding to continue going through each department’s budget during a workshop on May 3.
Aside from increases due to contractual obligations, the majority of the projected Police Department budget is level.
“It was really remarkable that we were able to hold the line at a modest 6 percent increase... against contractual cost increases and inflation,” Marchant said of the proposed police budget, which totals $13.4 million.
The only new item included in the department’s 2022 expenditures falls within its photographic supplies line. A $60,275 increase there would cover the purchase of between 40 and 50 body cameras — those could cost up to $1,800 per officer, Heise said, although he suspects it’ll cost closer to $1,200.
Police in Coventry don’t currently wear body cameras, and Heise said the intent would be to have a camera on each officer.
“It’s a program we’re looking to go towards, and I think most of the state is going towards it,” he said, adding that the program would reduce the town’s liability while also protecting its citizens.
Marchant and Mills also on Monday presented to the council the projected expenditures in a couple of the other departments.
An increase in the Town Manager line of the budget reflects the addition of the administrative officer, a position created this year and being filled by Ed Warzycha, who served for three years as the town’s interim town manager. The salary for that position is $135,000.
An increase of around $60,000 in the tax assessor’s office, meanwhile, would cover the salary of a deputy tax assessor, a new position that Marchant said is much needed. Insufficient staffing in the tax assessor’s office creates “an unreasonable burden on the employees,” he said, adding that it’s caused a high turnover rate in the office.
The Town Council will continue reviewing the Fiscal Year 2022 budget during a workshop at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 3.
In the meantime, councilor James LeBlanc said he hopes to find ways to lower the proposed 3.95 percent property tax increase, adding that he’s “very concerned” by it.
“I’m hopeful that by going through the budget department by department we might be able to reduce some of the expenses,” he added.