COVENTRY — For the third time in twice as many months, Coventry residents will head to the polls today to either accept or reject a $109.2 million budget for the fiscal year that started more than six months ago.
Voters in Coventry have twice rejected the Fiscal Year 2021 budget presented to them — first, voters in July turned down a level-funded budget that wouldn’t have impacted tax rates; in October, a proposal that would have increased the tax levy by 4 percent was defeated.
If the budget fails again today, Interim Town Manager Ed Warzycha said during Tuesday’s virtual Financial Town Meeting, that would likely mean a level-funded budget for the entire fiscal year.
“I don’t feel as though we would have the time or any idea of where to go with another proposal to try and get it passed,” Warzycha said. “If we haven’t succeeded in three attempts, I don’t believe there would be any desire to attempt a fourth time.”
The budget being decided on today, approved unanimously last month by the Town Council, would increase the tax levy by 1.97 percent.
That would result in residential and tangible tax rates of approximately $19.40 per $1,000 of valuation, compared to the current rates of $18.97, and a commercial tax rate of $23.38, up from $22.87.
Motor vehicle tax rates would remain unchanged at $18.75.
The proposed budget includes an additional $225,000 toward municipal operations, and a $1.2 million increase to Coventry's school district.
The additional funding on the municipal side of the budget would be used to hire two finance clerks — one to work in the tax assessor's office and one to float between the tax collector’s office and human resources — as well as an associate planner and an economic development specialist.
Most of the proposed new hires are positions that over the years have been eliminated amid budget constraints. Heavy workloads call for additional help, Warzycha said, noting, for example, that the planning department has a lot of projects in the works and without more hands is falling behind.
The economic development specialist, however, would be a new role within the town. It’s a position that Coventry “is in dire need of to help bring [it] into the 21st century,” Warzycha said.
“We need an economic development person to go after these companies, try to bring commercial and industrial into the town,” he said. “[Adding the position] will allow the tax rate, hopefully, in some cases, to begin to decrease on the municipal side.”
Salaries of the additional positions total around $310,000, but because the year is already more than half over Warzycha only included five months worth of pay in the proposed budget.
The additional municipal funding appropriation also would cover raises for all non-union employees, who Warzycha said haven’t seen salary bumps in more than three years.
While the municipal side could make do without the additional funding included in the budget being considered today, Warzycha said, the school district would “have a much more difficult time” surviving under level funding.
“We really need to get this passed for them,” he said, “because [the district] is not going to do well if they don’t get the additional funding that they need. It’s going to be ugly if it happens, if it is rejected.”
In addition to offsetting a 1 percent, or $975,000, increase in its operating expenditures, the extra $1.2 million in local appropriations to Coventry Public Schools would help make up for a 3.7 percent, or $897,000, decrease in state aid.
The proposed budget does also include funding for the sports and clubs that have received the OK to run this year, Supt. Craig Levis pointed out.
While the district did realize savings of around $1.2 million due to last year’s switch to distance learning — those savings came from areas like utility, transportation and substitute teacher costs — that money is being used to offset expenses associated with required virus safety measures, which Levis said go “above and beyond normal operating costs.”
“We want to ensure safety measures have been put in place for our COVID-19 response,” Levis said, “and, also, this budget’s about providing foundational support for next year’s FY22 budget.”
Finally, the budget earmarks $200,000 for capital improvements within the town.
Town Council President Ann Dickson on Tuesday urged Coventry residents to vote in today’s referendum, and said she hopes they’ll support a budget that she called “fair, just and appropriate.”
“Voters should not consider that this is an attempt to go between zero and 4 percent,” Dickson said. “This budget is an honest attempt to realistically consider needs and balance that against the ability to pay.”
Dickson said she’s heard residents’ requests for an efficient and effective local government, as well as for a robust educational system.
“When an effective municipal and public school system are combined, we know that a great town will bring in people. Real estate values will increase, our young people will stay in our school system,” she continued. “Coventry will be a town where people will want to work, live, shop, eat in local restaurants; Coventry will be a town where people will want to take advantage of its recreational activities, its libraries, its public works services, its social services and its schools.”
Residents can vote between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. today, Thursday. District 1 will vote at St. Francis Church, 132 Peckham Lane; District 2 will go to the Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road; District 3 will vote at Club Jogues, 184 Boston St.; District 4 will vote at the Coventry Senior Center, 50 Wood St.; and District 5 will go to Coventry High School, 40 Reservoir Road.
The full proposed budget can be viewed on the town’s website, coventryri.org.