LITTLE COMPTON — With less than 30 days remaining before voters in Little Compton gather in the Wilbur & McMahon school gymnasium for the annual Financial Town Meeting (FTM) on Tuesday, May 21, high profile issues in the town budget for next fiscal year boil down to only a few in number.
That’s the word from Town Council President Robert Mushen and Budget Committee Chairman Scott Morrison.
Citizen views about those and other budget issues will have a chance to be heard at two upcoming public hearings of the Budget Committee, on Thursday, May 2, and Tuesday, May 14. Both hearings take place in Town Council Chambers beginning at 6:30 p.m..
The Budget Committee has not yet taken a vote nor recommended a budget, Mr. Morrison said. And he declined to state or even estimate a figure by which the tax rate might increase, which he said was currently at $5.38 per thousand dollars of value.
“With some improvement on the revenue side, and improvement in the assessed value of property in town, plus working with the various department heads and the council in an effort to reduce expenditures,” he said, “we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to recommend a budget that calls for a relatively small tax increase.”
Despite the school renovation underway in the building, the FTM itself will still take place May 21, as it has in years past, in the Wilbur & McMahon gymnasium, beginning at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m.. Town Clerk Carol Wordell said a path will be cleared for FTM attendees to enter from the front entrance to the building, and to proceed directly to the gymnasium.
About 150 voters are needed, she said, to constitute a quorum, although the exact number is pending a meeting of the Board of Canvassers which will determine the number of registered voters in town, of which a quorum is by the Town Charter set at 5 percent.
Among the budget matters of note — still under discussion or that impact the bottom line, but neither voted on or recommended — are the following:
• Based on current calculations, next year’s (FY 14’s) expense budget requests of $12.33 million are projected to reflect an increase of 0.8% over the current the FY 13’s budget total of $12.24 million, said Mr. Morrison and Mr. Mushen.
• With respect to the school budget, Mr. Morrison said, “the support from the town that the school is requesting represents a 1.5% increase from what they’re receiving in the current fiscal year (FY 13). That’s roughly a $94,000 estimated increase, he said.
A flyer sent recently from the Budget Committee to all voters in town says the increase comes “after several years of level funding.”
• Pension contributions are proposed to go up by about 25% (by $83,498, from $336,7000 to $420,200). This is “due to underperformance of plan assets compared to investment return assumptions,” Mr. Morrison said.
Mr. Mushen takes a sunnier view, saying that every June 30 the town looks at the pension picture, and, he said, “if the stock market keeps its current performance,we should be inn great shape.”
• Health care costs are going down next nearby $89,249, slightly more than the amount by which pension costs are going up. The decrease, said Mr. Mushen, is a result of more favorable experience factors, and economies achieved by merging the pool of people insured with other communities, such as Tiverton, Newport, Portsmouth, and Middletown through the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust. Mr. Morrison calls it a “change in the mix” or “in the population covered.”
• The FY 14 budget contains a $76,800 school related interest expense item for what is called a “bond anticipation note” (BAN). This is to pay the interest on money borrowed short term to fund school construction costs pending the sale of long-term bonds at a later date. The Budget Committee in its flyer said that in FY 15, the full annual expense of the long-term bond is estimated to generate “in the range of a 5% increase in the tax levy.”
• Police (up $39,352) and fire department (up $20,372) budgets are proposed for increases “largely due to labor costs” said both Mr. Mushen and Mr. Morrison.
Drug forfeiture funds, which in prior years helped support the police budget, are predicted to go down by $10,000 next year, from $80,000 to $70,000.
• Two programs are proposed to be zeroed out: an East Bay Community Action grant, down from $750 in FY 13 to zero dollars in FY 14. Funding for the “student assistance counselor” position in the school will be eliminated, down from $23,811 for FY 13 to zero dollars in FY 14.
• A stroke for senior citizens’ busing is proposed to be increased by $880, up from $3,800 to $4,680.