EAST GREENWICH–Peace prevailed at the June 1 East Greenwich school district/town council budget meeting after some contentious moments with district members voicing concern the council was nit-picking their budget.
Each year, both the school committee, and the council prepare their separate budgets, but since the district is not allowed by state law to collect taxes to support its budget, it’s up to the council, which does collect taxes, to provide the necessary operating funds.
The two organizations then meet in a joint session, and the school committee makes its arguments for funding requests, and the council asks questions, makes suggestions, and possibly cuts the funding request.
For the 2021-22 fiscal year, the district asked for $38,725,502 a decrease from last year’s request of $43,832,155, however, town Manager Andrew Nota, with support from the council asked the school committee to reduce that amount by $600,000 by using some of the district’s unaffiliated fund balance (surplus).
It was that request that was met with a chorus of protests from school committee members.
Timothy Munoz, school committee member said reducing the budget by $600,000 would “be a hard hit.”
He suggested that such a cut, if approved, might have little effect on the overall tax rate but might force the school committee to cut programs.
“It seems the school budget gets a closer look than the town budget does,” Munoz said.
The schools are the biggest driver making East Greenwich such a great place to live, Munoz said. “People move here for the schools.”
And when the school committee puts together its budget it has five public meetings, something he said the town council does not do when preparing it’s budget.
“I am struck by the asymmetry of the preparation of the school budget and the town’s,” Munoz added.
He said that he was not blaming the council but the process.
Council member Caryn Corenthal said, “we are not asking you to cut any programs. Just asking to see you use some of your fund balance.”
“I don’t want to see our budget wacked,” Munoz added.
“You’re a department of the town,” pointed out council member Michael Donegan, “and it’s our job to vette you budget. You don’t vette ours.”
Munoz agreed with Donegan, but asked the council to be more transparent when putting its budget together.
After more than three hours of discussion, the meeting ended with both sides agreeing to work more closely with each other.
The council will now formally take up not only the school committee’s budget but also their budget as well at a meeting on June 7 at which time they will approve the budgets, set the tax levy, and the tax rate.
The council’s proposed budget is $22,938,408, for a total overall budget (school and town) of $58,003,393.
The council is basing its revenue numbers on a collection rate of 98 percent. Because of the recently completed property revaluation property owners will see a reduction in their rates.
All numbers are on $100,000 of real property valuation: residential - $21.77 down from $23.43, commercial property - $23.42 down from the previous year’s $23.90, and personal property - $29.20 down from $29.25.
“The real estate market is something to be in awe of,” said Nota, when announcing the proposed rates.