EAST PROVIDENCE — After roughly two hours of input and interjection from residents at a public hearing on the matter Thursday afternoon, Oct. 18, in Room 306 of City Hall, the state-appointed East Providence Budget Commission unanimously passed its financial plan for Fiscal Year 2013 beginning on Nov. 1.
The $138-plus million dollar package includes no tax increases. Rates for residential ($20.74) and commercial/industrial/mixed use ($22.94) properties remain the same as this fiscal year. Rates on tangibles ($51.19) and motor vehicles ($37.10) are also the same as FY12.
Keys to the FY13 budget as well, for the Commission at least, are it is balanced and it fully funds the Annual Retirement Contribution (ARC), both of which are crucial components to rebuilding East Providence’s paltry credit rating.
The Commission also unanimously approved and gave authorization to the Finance Department to seek and acquire Tax Anticipatory Notes (TANs) and Revenue Anticipatory Notes (RANs) when appropriate or needed.
“There’s no such thing as a permanent budget and there’s no such thing as a perfect budget,” Commission member Michael O’Keefe told the audience. He added it’s “never” an easy process to make the numbers work.
Public comment began with a cordial exchange with and questioning by East Providence Teachers’ Union President and city resident Valerie Lawson.
Mrs. Lawson spoke of her personal and professional desire to see All-Day Kindergarten become a permanent fixture in the city budget and to keep Oldham Elementary School open. Both things are funded through the end of the 2012-13 school year. Neither is currently in the Commission’s five-year fiscal plan beginning with the start of the ’13-14 school term.
“If there is anyway the East Providence Teachers’ Union can aid the process we will do it,” Mrs. Lawson pledged.
Mr. O’Keefe lauded Mrs. Lawson’s assistance to the Commission through the difficult budgetary process. “Val has been nothing but cooperative since the day we got here.”
Commission Chairman Diane Brennan added, “The Budget Commission appreciates all the cooperation we’ve received from the employees and the residents of the city since we came in.”
Several parents of Oldham students spoke passionately in support of keeping the school operational beyond FY13. Other passions were expressed by parents of Special Education students.
Mr. O’Keefe claimed 31-percent of students received some type of Special Needs services when the Commission arrived nearly a year ago. That number is down to around 19 percent and the goal is to get it to the average of the so-called “Urban Ring” (Pawtucket, Cranston, etc.), which is about 15 percent.
At the first public hearing on the FY13 budget two weeks prior, Mr. O’Keefe made a point of stressing the need to keep Special Ed expenditures under control so it would not create inequities with the rest of the student body.
He used a poorly chosen word, “robbing,” when saying it was up to administrators and politicians to rein in extra costs.
Thursday, East Providence Local Advisory Committe (EPLAC) Co-Chair Laurie Brown angrily called out Mr. O’Keefe’s use of the word, which appeared in a story on the meeting here at eastbayri.com and in The Post print edition of Oct. 11.
Mr. O’Keefe didn’t deny using the word in question, though he did point out, correctly, his entire soliloquy on the subject wasn’t printed. There was, however, a composite of his thoughts offered in the story prior to the quote.
On other topics, Mr. O’Keefe and Mrs. Brennan each stressed all savings made by cuts over the last 10 months have been put directly back into the budget and have been counted on towards it being balanced.
Both correctly pointed out if keeping such things as Oldham School open, continuing All-Day K or re-introducing middle school sports are important then it’s up to the citizens and politicians of the city to work with the Commission.
Mrs. Brennan and Mr. O’Keefe told the audience there are three ways to go about the process — raise taxes, continue making cuts or have some combination of the two. Both stressed, though, neither residents or politicians have told the Commission raising taxes is or was an option.
Mrs. Brennan also point out it would be the easiest way for the state-appointees to approach the situation, but it has never been presented as a realistic option.
Also of note, out-going School Committee member and future Ward 4 City Councilor Chrissy Rossi questioned if the approximately $71 million budgeted for education in FY13 met Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements.
Mrs. Brennan said the Commission has been working very closely with state officials and they are all confident the Commission is meeting its obligation to the schools.
Prior to the start of the public hearing on the budget, the Commission conducted its regular bi-weekly meeting.
Of note, the Commission gave its approval to new Consolidated Finance Director Malcolm Moore to publish a Request For Proposal (RFP) to search for both a new external audit company and another to do preliminary work in preparation for the upcoming audit.
By charter, current auditor Bacon & Co. has reached the maximum number of years it can concurrently conduct the audit beyond this one. Mr. Moore also suggested the need for an outside firm to assist in the one-time prep work needed to be done by the city for this last audit by B&C.
In addition, Mrs. Brennan noted $66,000 would be saved in the FY13 budget and beyond by no longer offering healthcare coverage to the five members of the City Council. That savings will be seen once the books are reconciled.
The next Budget Commission meeting takes place Thursday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. in Room 306 of City Hall.