athornebrooke@ricentral.com

EAST GREENWICH--The town council met Monday to officially enact the FY20 budget and read over related ordinances that will allow the town to pursue a split tax rate and establish a new electricity contract with the aim of saving the town tens of thousands of dollars.

“This budget has taken the long road to reach the end of its journey,”council president Mark Schwager said. “I am looking forward to putting this budget to bed.”

The mood was triumphant as the town council voted to officially adopt the FY20 budget after more than half a year of deliberations, workshops, public hearings and general discontentment concerning the state of the town’s finances. Of note, the council gave a third reading of an ordinance that will allow for a split tax rate, thereby charging more taxes from businesses than from residents to allow for a more financially secure town with minimal impact on residents.

Though the split tax plan initially drew some criticism from business owners in the town who feared that the measure would hamper revenues, those fears were largely mollified when it was explained last month that the town would still be taking a much smaller amount in taxes than neighboring towns such as Warwick, thereby maintaining the town’s competitiveness in attracting small business owners.

“In the past, our town the same tax rate for both businesses and personal properties. What this does is allow us to tax different rates between residential, commercial and tangible,” Schwager said. 

Importantly, the move toward a split tax rate will keep costs for most residents mostly level, and improve efforts in the town to return monies to a direly depleted surplus fund.

“Residents are going to see less than a 1 percent raise in taxes,” Schwager said.

In addition to the budget, the town moved to offer a three-year contract to Constellation NewEnergy to secure reduced, fix-priced electricity for the town, that will save the town approximately $10,000 yearly. The contract, importantly, is non-exclusive, and will thus allow the town to pursue deals related to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, without impeding the town’s existing energy infrastructure.

“It’s kind of the wild west out there right now,” town council vice president Michael Donegan said. “Every accountant and lawyer with a briefcase is now a solar and wind developer.”

Donegan expressed hope that with the new contract saving the town thousands, the possibility would remain available to augment existing energy sources. The town also approved a recommended contract for fix-priced natural gas through Direct Energy Business.

In all, the quietly exultant meeting on Monday served as an emblematic moment for the town council, highlighting both its successes in passing a well-crafted and stable budget, and solidifying its calm and collected character in stark contrast to the fiery rhetoric that so badly scarred the reputation of the previous town council. Members of the town council are sure to be proud of their accomplishment and, for now, they can rest outside of the shadow of looming budget crises.

“Thank you to everyone,” Schwager said.

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