EAST PROVIDENCE — At its meeting Tuesday night, Oct. 1, the East Providence City Council opted to trim the initial Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget proposal it received from City Manager Peter Graczykowski and Finance Director Malcolm Moore rather than accept the document as presented, voting to deny pay raises to top administrators and freezing a built-in decrease to the Homestead Exemption.
Council President James Briden’s proposal to veto any non-contractual pay hikes, to halt the Homestead decrease for a year, keeping it at 13 percent, and to raise taxes at only .5 percent instead of the requested 1 percent passed. The decision means the Council needs to cut roughly $600,000 from the proposed budget on the city side. The 15-year phase out for the Homestead Exemption was begun by the Budget Commission and was maintained throughout the five-year budgetary outline it left for the city upon its departure last month.
“I think we have a great opportunity to allow residents to pay only at a slight amount more. People need that,” Mr. Briden said, boosting his proposal prior to the vote. “Unemployment in the city is still high. Some of our residents are living paycheck to paycheck. I think for us this is the underlying rationale.”
Mr. Briden was quick to acknowledge the efforts of the rank and file workers in the city, who may not get a pay increase, while voicing his opposition to any hikes other than those that are contractually obligated. The large percentage of the increases were targeted for the City Manager, the Finance Director, the Human Resources Director (Kathleen Waterbury) and the Information Technology Director (Kelly Ahrens).
“I’m not trying to disparage the hardworking, dedicated people in City Hall,” he said.
In addition, the Council requested the School Department cut some $200,000 from its proposed budget, specifically from a $900,000 line item for possible legal expenses. The School Committee and Superintendent Kim Mercer must make the final decision on the matter.
The Council also took up the proposed change to the city’s fiscal calendar, to change it from the current November to October schedule to that of July to June used by the state and most other municipalities.
To do so, the FY13-14 budget proposes to take money initially earmarked for a pension Annual Retirement Contribution (ARC) payment, about $2.7 million, and use it towards the debt service for a necessary synchronization bond that would be valued at roughly $25 million. All told, the budget proposes to use an approximated $4 million surplus towards the synchronization plan.
Finance Advisor Paul Luba, sitting in on his first full Council meeting in his state-appoint support and oversight role, urged the Council to put as much money as possible towards the fiscal year change.
“There’s no magic number,” Mr. Luba said. “Whatever is left I would recommend it go towards synchronization.”
The Council will hold another in a series of budget workshops Wednesday night, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. It must hold a public hearing on the completed budget proposal and approve a final draft by Thursday, Oct. 24.