Letter: Clarifying the Bristol budget

To the editor:

Some clarification is in order for reporting the Town of Bristol Budget provisionally set for Fiscal ’14 (July 1, 2013 through June 31, 2014).

First, the Bristol-Warren Regional School budget representing more than 50% of the Bristol town budget: For the first time ever the Bristol-Warren School Finance Committee voted unanimously to provide the schools exactly what the School Administration and Committee requested. This is because the request was sound and actually reduced the total budget from last year while the State of RI continued to reduce its support. That is a great credit to the management of the schools under Superintendant Melinda L. Thies – very good news! The bad news from the standpoint of Bristol is that suddenly the enrollment of Bristol students this year compared to the number from Warren increased markedly. School population determines the mix of dollar support by the two towns. The result is that Warren gets a reduction of about $450,000 contribution while that of Bristol increases about $800,000.

Furthermore the situation regarding pensions for retirees under new state law requires Bristol to provide many more dollars than ever before.

These two factors combine to produce substantial new demand upon Bristol taxpayers for the coming fiscal year. Together with that is the fact of only a small increase in the total valuation of Bristol properties as a consequence of the still recurring recession of 2011 and 2012.  Small increase in the tax base puts pressure on the tax rate as the total dollar levy is the product of tax base valuation times the tax rate.

So what did the Town Administrator and Council do? Strong effort went toward conservation and efficiency to continue most services without much enlarging costs beyond the heretofore stated encroachments on taxes. For example, a proposed 3% increase for non-union workers was made 1 ½% at the instigation of Council Chair Mary Parella, this to save dollars, provide some small relief to employees, and to set an example for collective bargaining negotiations following for union workers.

Separate from that were one-time step increases judged appropriate for our Town Clerk, Benjamin Church Home Director, and four particular well-qualified and underpaid library employees. Such adjustments of special and limited nature are rarely but sometimes appropriately correct to balance the order of salaries in fair relation one-to-another. Criticism evolves when one adds the modest 1 ½% to a step increase showing a high figure, in one case only here of total 13%. It is easy to understand that concern, but equally important to communicate the rare and single-time nature of such, not affecting other salaries.

Another part of the recent action publicized is that the provisional budget was passed only with a Council 3 to 2 vote rather than unanimously. Two of the new Councilors, totally well-meaning, wished for some further modification of salary treatment which when voted down led them to decline supporting the full budget result – a move perfectly within their prerogative. That follows a tradition. When I was first on the Council in 1983, I didn’t get my way in reducing expenditures so voted against the final budget. Tony Teixeira did likewise one year during his Council tenure. So Nathan and Ed as new Councilors seem to be following a tradition. Good on them!

By the way, the Bristol Town Council will hold its annual Public Hearing on the budget at 7 PM Monday April 22 – Do come along to add your own persuasion to that of Mary, Halsey, Tim, Eddy and Nathan to do what is right and necessary.

Halsey C. Herreshoff
Bristol Town Council Vice Chairman
125 Hope St.

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