EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence Budget Commission held the first of two scheduled public hearings on the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 Budget prior to its meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, in Room 306 at City Hall.
Much of the discussion centered around the format of the document, which is much more in-depth than plans presented to previous City Councils.
“What we’re talking about is making this a better document than in the past,” said Commission member Michael O’Keefe.
The prospective FY13 plan is pretty much a line-item breakdown of the city’s projected revenues and expenditures for the next 12 months starting on Nov. 1.
The revised format, according to City Manager and Commission member Peter Graczykowski, is an attempt to show both administrators and the general public where exactly dollars are being spent and where revenue is derived from other than taxes. It will also attempt to show where possible some departments, like Parks & Recreation and Buildings, can become more self-sufficient due to fees and permits.
“We expect to receive a number of comments on this first draft before final passage,” Mr. Graczykowski said. “And the final draft may take a different form.”
Commission chairman Diane Brennan reiterated the $153,924,361 FY13 budget does not include any tax increases. Rates for Residential ($20.74 per $1,000), Commercial/Industrial ($22.94), Motor Vehicle ($37.10) and Tangible Properties ($51.19) remain the same as last fiscal year.
The first draft did not include a narrative for each of the city’s department, which is customary in budgets and will be present in the final document.
There were also a handful of discrepancies in department line items, many of which were due to consolidation efforts in Finance and Information Technology (IT).
In addition, the specter of the possible closing of the Oldham Elementary School was raised when it was noted a new principal had been hired for the building after the position was shared between it and other schools in the recent past. Interim School Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes explained the hire was for just one year only and if Oldham is closed plans will be made to disperse the affected children to the other elementary schools in the area.
Mr. O’Keefe also took issue with the projected $1 million surplus in the Water Department being used to balance its budget. He said in actuality the department was “working under a structural deficit, which should not be the case.”
New consolidated City Finance Director Malcolm Moore said he looked at the “last couple” of budgets and that was the way in which it was prepared, though he concurred with Mr. O’Keefe saying “it is not the best practice.”
It was at about that time, roughly the mid-point of what was the hour-long hearing, when Mrs. Brennan cautioned all in attendance Thursday, “We’re viewing the budget as a work in progress and it is a work in progress. We still have a ways to go.”
Before the public hearing concluded, Mr. O’Keefe fired off a pointed salvo in the direction of the School Department as well as the School Committee on the subject of Special Education.
He said the Budget Commission has attempted to streamline the Special Education program and process, and has done so to a significant extent. However, it has met with resistance by both parents and politicians.
Mr. O’Keefe acknowledged the Commission must abide by state-mandated Maintenance of Effort (MOE) policies. But in the FY13 budget and the five-year budgetary plan the Commission is compiling, there are noteworthy savings derived from the Special Ed program.
Those savings, Mr. O’Keefe continued, are to be directed towards basic needs of the rest of the population, to things like textbooks, other educational materials and teachers’ salaries. All of which, according to Mr. O’Keefe, have been “gutted” in recent years.
He said it’s imperative for the School Department and the School Committee to formulate and adhere to a Basic Education Plan (BEP). He added despite the protestations of parents and outside forces, as long as the BEP is legal and that lawyers say it’s defensible in court, administrators and pols alike should “live with it and stick with it.”
In Mr. O’Keefe’s view, the amount of money spent in the past on Special Education has created inequities between it and rest of the school population.
“Just remember, every time you take an action on a Special Ed case understand you’re robbing the rest of the teachers and students in the other classrooms,” Mr. O’Keefe said.
The second and final public hearing on the FY13 Budget takes place at City Hall Thursday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. The next Budget Commission meeting takes place an hour earlier the same day at 4 p.m.