SOUTH KINGSTOWN – In a month’s time, South Kingstown residents will be weighing in on two budget referendum questions.
Although the current health crisis has forced the referendum to take place in July, rather than the Tuesday following the first Saturday in June as the town charter states, voters will have the option of applying for a mail ballot.
Town Manager Robert Zarnetkse stressed to those who hope to take advantage of this option that “ours is a two step process.”
“You have to make an application to receive the ballot, you receive the ballot and then you vote the ballot,” he said, in hopes of clearing up some confusion he’d received from multiple community members concerning the budget referendum.
This emergency ballot process, put in place by the South Kingstown Board of Canvassers, according to Town Clerk Susan Flynn, requires participants to return their voted ballot by 4 p.m. the day before the referendum.
“People can actually come to the town hall and vote by emergency ballot at the town hall, up until 4 p.m. on July 13,” Flynn said.
Residents mailing back their emergency ballot must also make sure their ballot is received by 4 p.m. on July 13, but for those feeling short on time and worried about making the deadline, Flynn advised that they can leave their voted ballot in the lockbox outside of town hall.
For those who would rather vote in person, the South Kingstown Recreation Center will be used as the designated all-day polling place on July 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Any registered voter is welcome to come and vote at that time, according to Flynn.
If both budget referendum questions are approved by the voters, it would decrease sending by about $1.4 million, according to Zarnetkse.
Last month, the South Kingstown Board of Canvassers received and verified the signatures on two budget referendum petitions, according Zarnetske. One petition seeks to reduce appropriation to the general fund by $300,000, and the other seeks to reduce the town’s tax transfer to the school fund by $1.1 million – though the latter has been subject to much more public discussion.
Towards the tail end of the budget cycle, Zarnetske had proposed the school department hand over the savings it realized from transportation this year, which was sizable since buses weren’t running the last three months out of the year. The savings realized from this, nearly $1.1 million, was almost identical to the amount the school department was requesting to have its budget increased by.
This back-and-forth transferring of funds was proposed, Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz said it felt like “washing money,” left more than a few people confused – including Councilwoman Deb Kelso and Councilman Rory McEntee. Community members also questioned why the school wouldn’t just hold onto the savings themselves, but Zarnetske said this will keep taxes from increasing this year and keep any increases in the second year minimal.
In April, Zarnetske said leaving the money in the schools’ savings would create “a second year rebound, because that money’s going to be put toward operations.” The only way to deal with that, he said, is to spread the property tax transfers out over two years.
At the time, some community members commented that they just saw this as a higher jumping off point for the school budget the following year. A few weeks later, the petition to not provide a transfer to the schools came forward.
On Monday night, one community member questioned if the budget referendum would mean starting back over from scratch, but Zarnetske stated that “It wouldn’t, in any other way, change the schools budget or the town’s budget.”
If the voters approve the school budget referendum question, Zarnetske said “we wouldn’t be dealing with the budget passed by the town council at that point, [the school committee’s budget] resolution would automatically negate the transfer.”
“In fact, that’s sort of what everyone’s intention was – that if they were going to have the savings, let them spend their savings and don’t give them a [property tax transfer], or give them the PPT, but give the savings back,” he added.