EAST GREENWICH—Town Manager Andrew Nota delivered his bi-weekly manager’s report Monday, covering a wide array of topics from the unfinished state budget, to schools, to the myriad of problems with reopening Rhode Island. Chief among his concerns for the near-to-medium term future of the town is the fiscal losses likely to be brought about by the state’s budget when it is adopted.
“I still am a little hesitant regarding the next phase,” Nota said. “Although we’ve started to see the economy come back, a lot of us have been quiet.”
Nota noted that a driving cause of the uncertainty over both the town and the state’s immediate economic futures is the likely process by which towns throughout Rhode Island will be funded in the coming fiscal year.
“Because the state does not yet have an FY21 budget, what they’ve opted to do is have a particular percentage of 91.7 percent of the FY21 projected levels,” Nota said, “that are really going to reflect the FY20 appropriated amount.”
The state has thus far postponed finalizing a budget as it awaits further news on another federal stimulus package. As such, the town will, on paper, essentially be receiving monies according to last year’s funding levels. Due to increasing costs associated with running schools in the COVID era and changes in the town’s funding formulae, what that actually amounts to is effectively a $758K decrease in real funding.
“East Greenwich, who we speak for, could sustain a significant loss,” Nota told the town council.
The state of affairs led to some frustration and disbelief among the council, particularly concerning the fact that the state is requiring such great COVID-related expenses without offering reimbursement for them.
“It is just ridiculous that they’re even thinking about not giving the schools a ton of money,” said council member Caryn Corenthal. “For example, I’ve been doing a little bit of checking, and just to provide PPEs (person protective equipment) its between $400-700K. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd”
“We get such little aid,” council vice president Michael Donegan agreed.
For now, the town manager said he hopes that East Greenwich and Rhode Island will be able to rally with other locales in similar dire straits and push for federal funds to backfill the recent debts of cities and towns. One key in this endeavor is the town’s association with organizations such as the National League of Cities, an advocacy organization that specializes in providing education, research, and support to city leaders across the country.
“The National League of Cities is starting to roll out some fairly targeted positions on the forthcoming stimulus,” Nota said. “The only way a recovery, in our estimation, is going to be successful, is if it starts at the grassroots and cities and towns get the relief they need to get us through this crisis.”
That means encouraging the state’s current federal delegation in Washington to push for greater municipal funding in the upcoming stimulus package vote, so as to make more funds available to towns besieged by rising costs and shrinking revenue streams. Towns such as East Greenwich, which received a relatively miniscule amount of funds from the state in the last round of stimulus aid, are particularly in need of such relief now. For the time being, the town is left to await votes both in Washington and in Providence regarding what the budgetary landscape will actually look like in FY21.
Congress is expected to vote on the next stimulus package by August 7, at which point the Rhode Island legislature is expected to finalize its budget for the coming year.