EAST PROVIDENCE — The Budget Commission sponsored an educational seminar for those newly-election officials in East Providence Thursday night, Nov. 29, a 90-minute session that was both informative and certainly an eye-opener to some in attendance.
Commission Chairman Diane Brennan led the meeting, which included remarks by State Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly. State Department of Municipal Finance supervisor James Savage and Cynthia Brown, a representative from the Rhode Island Department of Education, also made presentations.
Councilors-elect James Briden, Tracy Capobianco, Thomas Rose and Chrissy Rossi attended the seminar as did their counterparts on the School Committee — Joel Monteiro, Anthony Ferreira and Richard Pimentel.
Mrs. Brennan opened the session with an overview of the aims still to be reached and achievements made to date by the Commission, quickly approaching its one-year anniversary in charge of nearly all city affairs.
Mrs. Brennan pointed to the targeted savings of nearly $60 million through the reduction of expenditures in the Commission’s as of yet completed five-year fiscal outline.
She also talked about the Commission’s continuing negotiations with the nine unions and two other bargaining units (school aides and administrators), saying there remains a need for contractual concessions from all parties if the city is to reach a goal of funding its retirement liabilities to the minimum standard of 60 percent over the next several years.
East Providence, like many other municipalities around the state and nation, currently falls far below that threshold, although the Commission has fully funded its Annual Retirement Contributions (ARCs) in the two fiscal year budgets (2012 and 13) its completed.
Mrs. Gallogly spoke at the conclusion of Mrs. Brennan’s presentation, telling the gathered, “We want (the state) the be considered as a resource, an ally and a partner in this process.”
Mr. Savage led the discussion next and talked about East Providence’s effective tax rates.
Despite protestations from several residents and business owners, the city has among the lowest effect rates in the state when considering the number of exemptions it allows.
A state review of similar municipalities to East Providence found the city has the second-lowest tax rate among like communities and the fourth highest amount of exemptions. East Providence was grouped with Cranston, Central Falls, Johnston, North Providence, Pawtucket, West Warwick and Woonsocket for the purposes of the comparison.
As an example, Mr. Savage said the most-recent median value of a house in East Providence is $208,000, but with the Homestead Exemption in effect, that home is taxed at only $179,000. Only Central Falls, among the like cities and towns, taxes at a lower rate.
Similarly, Ms. Brown used figures based on a grouping of communities commonly referred to as the “urban ring” in educational circles. The Rhode Island urban ring consists of E.P., Cranston, Johnston, Newport, North Providence, Warwick and West Warwick.
East Providence is at the low end in terms of actual classroom ($14,500) and administrative costs. The former has much to do with its teachers being the lowest paid in the state, while the latter has to do with the structure of the school department.
In contrast, the city is at the high end of tuition costs, what it pays for students to attend out-of-district schools and programs, as well as what it pays for transportation.
Nearly all of the tuition costs are related to Special Needs students. East Providence has some of the highest Special Education expenditures in the state. It consumed a high of 36 percent of the budget in Fiscal Year 2009, dropped to 33 percent in FY10 and went back up slightly to 34 percent in FY11. The Budget Commission and the School Department, mostly through policy and evaluation methods, have vigorously attempted to reduce the percentage.
Mrs. Gallogly, following up on the presentations of Mr. Savage and Ms. Brown, noted, “where (the state) has seen outliers of problems (in the budget), we’ve tried to take action.”