NARRAGANSETT – The town council got its first official look at the proposed FY 2021 budget Monday night, which the finance department and town manager James Tierney presented for a total of $62.3 million. The figure marks about a $1.3 increase over last year’s adopted budget of $60.9 million, and would require about a 3.6 percent increase in the tax levy from the town over last year. Councilors said they were looking for ways to bring that amount down as financial situations remain uncertain during the COVID-19 crisis.

The proposed budget also includes funding the town’s pension and other post-employment benefit liabilities at 100 percent of their recommended public contributions, as well as $2.2 million slated for capital improvement projects (CIP). The suggested CIPs include network infrastructure upgrades and computer replacement program (Information Technology Department), vehicle replacement, mobile data units and replacement equipment (Narragansett Police Department), equipment upgrades, building repairs and rescue replacement (Narragansett Fire Department), vehicle replacement (engineering department), town hall renovations, vehicle and equipment replacements road repairs and storm drain upgrades (department of public works), vehicle and equipment replacement, park upgrades, including fencing and courts and the community center, camp and park renovations (parks and recreation department), renovations of building, renovate cabanas, sand replenishment, funding of storm reserve account (town beach), general building and grounds upgrades at the Middlebridge property and building renovations at Kinney Bungalow, among others.

The residential property tax rate is proposed at $10.66 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value, an increase of 43 cents per $1,000 over last year’s adopted rate of $10.23 per every $1,000 in assessed value, while the commercial property tax rate is proposed at $14.39, an increase of 6 cents over last year’s adopted rate of $14.33 per $1,000 in assessed value. The change represents an overall 3.6 percent increase in the total tax levy as proposed, about a $1.9 million uptick in total.

In the meeting Monday, councilors proposed a variety of ideas to come down on that number. Council president pro tem Jill Lawler floated charging investment properties in town, such as bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals, that are charged the residential property tax rate instead pay the higher commercial tax rate, since they were operating as a business despite being classified as residential properties.

“It would take a little burden off the residents,” said Lawler. “Look at what’s happening in the world right now, in this town. So many people don’t have jobs, you’re lucky if you have one and every penny counts and I know how residents feel about the investment properties.”

Town finance director Christine Spagnoli said the town could look into the proposal, however councilor Patrick Murray objected to the idea.

“Investment properties are residential, you can’t put them in the category of commercial, you’d have to change the whole tax structure,” he said.

Murray also proposed using money from the federal COVID-19 financial relief bill to help offset the costs of the proposed tax increase on residents, asking if there was a chance the $1.2 billion slated for Rhode Island could “trickle down” to the Town of Narragansett from the state.

“It’s still up in the air how that money will be allocated,” said Spagnoli. “We’re hoping to get some of those expenses covered, it cannot and will not be replacing any lost revenue, the state has been quite clear on that.”

Town council president Matthew Mannix said he was hoping to get the residential property tax increase down to nothing.

“In this environment, Jim [Tierney] has already made cuts to the budget, I think I’m going to be looking to make more in this budget because we have people at home who have either lost their job, they’ve gone on a reduced salary at their job, some people have been furloughed from their job,” said Mannix. “I think it’s our duty to keep the taxes low. My goal is to have a zero percent tax increase. That’s what I’m going to be looking at, I’ve been going through the budget. I’m hoping that we can do that or get as close to that as we can.”

About $1.8 million in cuts were made by Tierney since the budget’s first draft—numbers that are reflected in the town’s $62.3 million budget proposal on Monday.

The school department, meanwhile, has proposed a budget of about $32 million, the majority of which will be funded by a town allocation. Spagnoli said 57 percent, or $35.6 million, of the proposed budget would cover town operations while the remaining 43 percent, or $26.6 million, would go toward the schools.

The town council hosted a lengthy budget workshop session on Wednesday evening. For coverage of that meeting, please see next week’s Narragansett Times. There is a second public budget workshop slated for May 13, and the council will host a second public hearing on the proposed budget, along with a first reading of the new budget ordinance, on June 1. A second reading and vote on adoption is scheduled for June 15. 

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