NARRAGANSETT – The town has put forward a FY 2022 budget of $63,873,795, an expenditure plan that will still need to be vetted and approved by the town council before passage. The main drivers of the proposed budget are allocation to schools, salaries and benefits for town employees and capital projects.
The tax levy is proposed to increase to the 4 percent state maximum including the motor vehicles tax and 3.75 percent without, for a total levy increase of $2.1 million. The property tax rates as put forward by the town would decrease from last year’s final figures, coming out at $9 per $1,000 for residential property and $12.16 per $1,000 for commercial. FY 2021’s budget included $10.48 per $1,000 for residential property and $14.15 per $1,000 for commercial.
“It’s good to see that property tax rate go down,” said town council president Jesse Pugh, “even though it equals out to basically the same thing. But it looks good.”
Included in the proposed budget is a $4.5 million expenditure for capital improvement projects, a $289,593 increase over last year’s total in the same category. The town’s water department is proposed to receive about $479,500 in funding for continuation of water main replacements, building and tank improvements and vehicle and equipment upgrades. Wastewater is slated to receive about $1.3 million for upgrades to the regional and Scarborough wastewater treatment facilities, vehicle and equipment replacement and pump station upgrades. Approximately $295,000 has been asked for the town beach for renovations of buildings and cabanas, sand replenishment and funding the storm reserve account.
Additional proposed capital improvement projects consist of network infrastructure and computer replacement for the information technology department, tax utility software suite upgrades/replacement for the finance department, town hall renovations, along with vehicle and equipment replacement, road repairs and storm drain upgrades for the department of public works. The town’s police and fire departments have also asked for vehicle and equipment replacement, with station upgrades and enhancements at the fire department. Finally, renovations at Kinney Bungalow and the third phase of major road repairs are also proposed for capital improvements.
Resident Stanley Wojciechowski was the only member of the public to comment on the budget proposal, though the presentation from the town is only preliminary and many more council workshops, public hearings and discussion will take place before a vote on adoption. Wojciechowski took issue with the proposed vehicle replacements in a number of town departments.
“We’re always seeing purchases of cars,” he said. “I think we’re in trouble because we have the idea that the vehicles only last for 100,000 miles and that’s about 30 years ago. I have a Honda at 250,000 miles and it sounds really good. Today, you need to buy a Honda or Toyota which will go 300,000 miles, not the 100,000 miles. That way, you can put off replacement of vehicles. We have to make a change.”
Wojciechowski also offered that the town’s unassigned fund balance, which currently sits at about 14 percent of last year’s adopted budget, should come down in an effort to decrease overall spending and lower the tax burden on residents and property. The town seeks to maintain a healthy surplus in an effort to acquire better bond ratings and overall financial health, a point made by councilor Patrick Murray in response. According to the town, it is recommended that the unassigned fund balance stay within 10 and 16 percent of the previous year’s adopted budget total, and Narragansett is on track to be at the high end of that ratio when the town replenishes the $2.8 million purchase of the former Belmont building in the Pier Marketplace that will serve as a new town library.
According to the budget proposal, town manager James Tierney cut about $1.3 million from budget proposals from department heads before presenting to the town council on Monday night. 42 percent of the FY 2022 proposed budget is for the allocation to the school department, 36 percent for salaries and benefits, 15 percent for transfers (capital projects, debt service, library) 4 percent for supplies and materials, 2 percent for purchased services and 1 percent for miscellaneous expenses. The town’s pension and other post-employment benefits contribution would be 100 percent funded in the proposed annual spending plan.
Relief from the recently passed federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) is not factored into the budget at this time. Narragansett is estimated to receive about $1.5 million in federal funding, along with an undetermined portion of $24.3 million in relief for all of Washington County. Eligible expenditures under the ARP include assistance to households, premium pay to eligible essential workers, small businesses and nonprofits or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality, along with replacement of lost revenue and necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. Monies cannot be used for pension funds or replacing revenue declines resulting from tax cuts.
The town expects to know the final funding allocation from the ARP sometime in May. Monies can be used through Dec. 31, 2024 and will be distributed in two phases.
The town council will host budget workshops on April 13, 14 and 15. A second public hearing is scheduled for May 3. A first reading of the FY 2022 budget is scheduled for May 17 and a vote on adoption is scheduled for June 7.