Schools' budget surplus account likely to grow

Residents: Taxpayers' money is 'invisible' and vaporizes

By Josh Bickford
Posted 7/8/20

The Barrington School Department finished the year with a surplus of more than $1 million.

The schools also have $2 million sitting in a capital reserve account, accumulated from prior years' …

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Schools' budget surplus account likely to grow

Residents: Taxpayers' money is 'invisible' and vaporizes


The Barrington School Department finished the year with a surplus of more than $1 million.

The schools also have $2 million sitting in a capital reserve account, accumulated from prior years' budget surpluses.

And the schools are seeking a $2 million increase over the current year's $52 million operating budget, in addition to a $388,595 capital budget increase.

Those figures surfaced during last Wednesday's budget hearing and spurred a few questions from residents.

Kevin Fitta asked town officials if they had considered a lesser school budget increase, in light of the struggling economy and the residents whose incomes have been impacted; the business shutdown has resulted in a double-digit unemployment rate in Rhode Island.

Bev Migliore said she was disappointed that the school department's surplus is never figured into the upcoming year's proposed budget. She said that money just seems to vaporize.

Ann Strong agreed with Ms. Migliore. She asked why the surplus budget is not included — even mentioned — in the district's proposed budget presentation.

For each question, town officials offered explanations and rebuttals.

The chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Steve Primiano, tried to address Ms. Migliore's question. He said the school department's budget surplus is placed in a capital reserve account, and school officials use that money to complete a variety of projects, such as replacing roofs in schools, repaving parking lots and completion of ADA requirements. Mr. Primiano said the district often receives 35 percent reimbursement from the state for those projects.

Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore said the district can provide a list of the projects that are funded through the capital reserve account. He said the projects can also be found on the school department's website.

Richard Staples, a member of the COA, said the schools' capital reserve account allows the town to pay for needed improvements while avoiding the costs associated with going out for bond money.

"We're saving money by re-investing," Mr. Staples said.

Ms. Strong, a former member of the town council, responded to town officials, saying that the capital reserve account and re-investment of surpluses needs to be incorporated into the budgets. Ms. Strong said that money is "invisible." She said officials are repeatedly taking a substantial amount of taxpayer money and spending it, but the taxpayers do not see what the money is being spent on. She said it is the school department's fault that the capital reserve account expenditures are not more visible.

Mr. Staples said that account is included in the annual budget forecasting report.

Doug Fiore, the finance director for Barrington Schools, said the account is not as visible to taxpayers because it does not go through the budgeting process like the operating budget and capital improvement projects budget. He said the district could try to publicize the account more.

Ms. Strong said that was a good idea, adding that officials should also list prioritized projects.

Mr. Messore said the issue "comes down to communication." And Mr. Staples said the account and the work it affords was a good news story.

Ms. Strong replied, stating that the district does a good job getting the most out of the capital reserve account, but officials need to let the taxpayers know how their money is being spent.

To that point, John Alessandro, a member of the Committee on Appropriations and a former member of the Barrington School Committee, said residents could follow their tax dollars more closely by attending school committee meetings where capital reserve account projects are regularly discussed.

Barrington's budget, at a glance

Steve Primiano, the chairman of the town's Committee on Appropriations, presented the capital, municipal and school department's proposed budgets during an online meeting last week.

Capital budgets

• School capital: The school department has requested (and the planning board recommended) a $388,595 capital budget. That budget includes $269,595 for technology needs at the schools, such as the replacement of student Chromebooks. School officials also requested $95,000 for the replacement of wireless access points in local school buildings, and another $24,000 to replace a school department vehicle. The COA recommended fully funding the schools' capital requests.

• Municipal capital: The planning board recommended funding the municipal capital budget request of $1,144,200. The town manager made some changes to that budget, including a $200,000 increase for land conservation. That item was specific to the potential purchase of a piece of property on Sowams Road, which the town plans to leave undeveloped. The property would also serve as an access point for nature trails that run along the Palmer River.

Operating budgets

• School operating: Officials have requested a 3.9 percent increase to the district's operating budget, which would push the total to $54,500,526. The COA has recommended a slight decrease to that figure, calling for a total operating budget of $54,460,526. COA officials called for a $40,000 reduction in the area of supplies; officials said the district received a grant that would pay for those supplies.

• Municipal operating: The town manager requested a municipal operating budget of $17,949,827, which was a 4.95 percent increase, but the COA called for some reductions to that proposal. COA members are recommending a 3.1 percent increase for a total operating budget of $17,632,886. One of the cuts was about $149,000 which would have paid for two additional DPW workers.

Tax rate

Should voters approve the proposed budgets, there would be a 3.52 percent increase to the town's tax rate. The current tax rate is $20.10 (per $1,000 of assessed value). That figure would jump to $20.81 (per $1,000). Here's how that new tax rate would impact Barrington residents' tax bills:

Assessment — Current bill — Proposed tax bill

$200,000 — $4,020 — $4,160

$300,000 — $6,030 — $6,240

$400,000 — $8,040 — $8,324

$500,000 — $10,050 — $10,400

$600,000 — $12,060 — $12,480

$700,000 — $14,070 — $14,560

$800,000 — $16,080 — $16,640

$900,000 — $18,090 — $18,720

$1,000,000 — $20,100 — $20,800

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