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Barrington Town Council rejects proposed cuts to budget

Jacob Brier and Joy Hearn call for cuts, others say it's too early

By Josh Bickford
Posted 4/28/20

A move to reduce the town's budget in light of the current economic downturn failed to garner enough town council support.

During a virtual meeting on Thursday night, council members Jacob Brier …

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Barrington Town Council rejects proposed cuts to budget

Jacob Brier and Joy Hearn call for cuts, others say it's too early

Posted

A move to reduce the town's budget in light of the current economic downturn failed to garner enough town council support. During a virtual meeting on Thursday night, council members Jacob Brier and Joy Hearn proposed reductions to the budget.

"I believe that people are hurting financially, and we should limit the tax increase," Mr. Brier said. "I also believe we should not be putting forward a budget that includes revenue of nearly $9.5 million in state aid that is likely to be reduced, at least somewhat."

Mr. Brier said the proposed reductions included the elimination of funding for two new public works department employees, and the elimination of council stipends. Both motions failed.

Council member Steve Boyajian said it is too early in the process for the town to make cuts to the proposed budget.

Mr. Boyajian said the town needs more information about the amount of state aid it will receive prior to making any changes. He said eliminating items from the budget right now would result in a potential loss of collected local tax revenue, which could amplify the future loss of state aid.

"I think the hole is going to be deeper than what we're talking about," Mr. Boyajian said.

The council member said he is not opposed to making changes to the budget, even eliminating items from it, but believes officials should wait until they have more information before doing so.

"At the end of the day, we'll probably have to make those types of cuts," he said. "Right now, the biggest unknown is the state revenue we'll receive."

Mr. Brier said he could understand the point shared by Mr. Boyajian, but still believed the budget cuts now would have been a smart move for Barrington.

"I don't disagree with the logic or basis of his rationale, I just came to a different conclusion, having weighed things differently, I guess," Mr. Brier said. "There seemed to be consensus that we are unlikely to receive all the state revenue that is currently in the budget, so I'm not sure what reasons the other councilors had for choosing not to be proactive in resetting a proposed budget now that the circumstances are different."

The topic of a state revenue shortfall surfaced during the governor's daily press conference on Saturday, April 26.

A reporter asked Governor Gina Raimondo about the potential revenue hit the state will take because of the coronavirus-related economic challenges. More than 150,000 residents have filed for unemployment, and numerous stores and services have either downsized or closed.

Gov. Raimondo said it's going to be "a brutal budget to balance" this year. She added that the state is going to spend the next four weeks focused on the fight against the coronavirus and then shift some of its focus to the budget process. Gov. Raimondo said there would be cuts, but did not specify where they will be or how they may impact cities and towns across Rhode Island.

"It's going to be hard," she said.

Some town officials are concerned that the car tax reimbursement from the state may be eliminated or reduced, impacting the town's revenue from the state.

Local officials have said that the town's proposed operating budget only results in a 2 percent increase to the tax levy, but that is primarily because it is masked by the projected state revenue. A reduction in state aid would change that significantly.

No position yet

The town's Committee on Appropriations has not taken any position on any of the proposed budgets yet.

Steve Primiano, the chairman of the committee, said the group has thoroughly reviewed the various budgets, and is at a point where it would normally begin making recommendations.

"However, with the indefinite delay in the FTM (financial town meeting) and the uncertainty over revenues, we have paused," Mr. Primiano said. "I will most likely schedule our next meeting on May 12 to let the committee discuss how we want to proceed. That will be after the May 8 end to current restrictions and, I believe, after the state revenue estimates are available."

Manpower question

Town officials have spent some time discussing the manager's proposed expansion of the DPW workforce.

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha is calling for the eventual hiring of six more DPW workers, bringing the public works staffing close to the same level it held when the town was responsible for all the trash, recycling and yard waste pickup. Years ago, former town manager Peter DeAngelis privatized the collection services and reduced the staffing at the DPW.

Now Mr. Cunha is calling for additional workers at DPW, including two new hires this year and six over the next three years. The town manager had also proposed $4,000 for a manpower study.

When asked if it made better sense to pay for a manpower study first, and then decide how many (if any) additional employees to hire, Mr. Brier said the same issue also surfaced during a Committee on Appropriations meeting. That group, which is responsible for reviewing proposed budgets, asked that the manpower study be conducted sooner.

"A consultant was hired and the manager should have that report soon," Mr. Brier said. "So, that is funding (the study) that should certainly be removed from next year's budget, because we'll pay for it this year. I'm sure the COA intends to remove that, since they requested the expense be incurred now…"

Mr. Boyajian said he trusts Mr. Cunha's assertion that more workers are needed at the DPW.

"We trust his judgment," he said. "We think it's a worthwhile expenditure."

Closer look at the budget

Nearly every section of the town's proposed municipal budget includes increases — the majority of town departments reflect increases ranging from less than 2 percent to more than 15 percent. In fact, the proposed municipal operating budget shows an increase of 4.95 percent, pushing the current total of $17,103,876 to a request of $17,949,827.

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha said he is very comfortable presenting the funding requests included in his proposed budget.

"I think the municipal budget continues to be strained," he said, during a recent interview. "We continue to be frugal … Our citizens expect a certain level of services."

The town manager is proposing a merger of the finance and tax assessor clerical staffs, in an effort to save taxpayers money. Mr. Cunha anticipates that the move will initially save half of a full-time position, and that when combined with payroll outsourcing, there will be savings of 1.5 positions.

He said employees in both departments are currently preparing for the change.

"We're cross-training them right now," Mr. Cunha said.

Proposed increases

• Town manager: 8.32 percent increase (From $198,364 to $214,870) According to the town manager's budget summary, there is a request to add $10,000 for consultant services for the town's webpage, social media platforms and the crisis management communications. There is also a $100 per month increase in the manager's automobile allowance, and the executive assistant's salary includes a proposed increase of 5.3 percent.

• Town clerk: 2.16 percent increase (From $247,278 to $252,622) The increase will cover a 3 percent pay raise for the clerk typist, and longevity pay increases. There is an additional $2,800 increase for code supplement printing, offsett by a $2,800 decrease in contractual services.

• Probate and municipal courts: 8.59 percent increase (From $5,824 to $6,324) There is a proposed increase of $400 for the probate court judge "due to workload" and the addition of $100 for travel and conferences.

• Board of canvassers: 65.73 percent increase (From $20,200 to $33,477) This being an election year, the canvassers will need to handle a presidential preference primary, a statewide primary and a general election.

• Finance: 1.26 percent increase (From $379,031 to $383,793) There will be some savings with the combination of clerical staff from the finance department with the tax assessor's office, and there is a proposed increase of $10,300 for the Business and Finance Director Kathy Raposa.

• Tax assessor: 2.15 percent increase (From $153,353 to $156,652) The budget request includes a small increase for adjustments in auto allowance, travel and contractual services. The proposed salary change will be off-set by a reduction in a full-time salary and an increase in part-time salaries.

• Human resources: 4.35 percent increase (From $63,280 to $66,035) The proposed increase will cover the addition of a second intern and a small increase for education and training, and the addition of $275 for a membership requirement, which will be transferred from the town manager's budget.

• Recreation department: 19.90 percent increase (From $147,747 to $177,150) A 4 percent salary increase for the recreation/senior services director is fueling the department increase, as are increased hours and the hourly pay rate for part-time and temporary help. The recreation department also recently took over operation of the Barrington Community School (now called Barrington Learning Center), and the director's salary of $17,202 will be reimbursed through enrollment fees.

• Library: 1.88 percent increase (From $1,279,293 to $1,303,345) The proposed increase will cover full-time salary adjustments and a wage increase for part-time help.

• Senior services: 15.44 percent increase (From $118,001 to $136,224) The proposed increase will cover the addition of a part-time assistant director, off-set by reductions in special projects and contracted services.

• Fire department: 8.17 percent increase (From $2,406,912 to $2,603,442) The proposed increase is due mail to the expiration of grant money that had paid a portion of firefighters' salaries. There will also be the addition of a part-time contracted emergency management agency assistant to support the fire chief with "expanding responsibilities in emergency management planning and preparation ($25,000)."

• Police department: 3.28 percent increase (From $2,531,739 to $2,614,779) The increase will cover negotiated salary raises, step-increases and longevity increases.

• Harbor control: 15.9 percent increase (From $40,595 to $47,050) The proposed increase will cover a raise in the harbor master's salary "to align with neighboring communities…" as well as increased pay and hours for patrol personnel.

• Public works: 6.96 percent increase (From $2,342,958 to $2,506,011) The town manager is proposing a significant increase in staffing for the department of public works (see associated story).

• Refuse and recycling: 2.63 percent increase (From $952,441 to $977,471) This will cover a contractual increase.

• Employee benefits: 4.98 percent increase (From $4,355,500 to $4,572,500)

• Insurance: 6.94 percent increase (From $438,700 to $469,150)

• Agency support: 340 percent increase (From $1,250 to $5,500)

The proposal includes increased financial support for Wildlife Rehabilitators of RI, and the addition of $500 to Flower Power for helping hang planters along County Road and Maple Avenue.

Proposed decreases

• Planning, building and resiliency: 1.98 percent decrease (From $307,268 to $301,170)

For the second straight year, this department will see a decrease in funding; in fiscal year 19-20, the planning, building and resiliency department had a 3.05 percent decrease. The proposed budget reflects salary increases, but reductions in part-time help (-$2,450), contracted services (-$7,500), membership dues (-$300) and stationery and supplies (-$400). "The consolidation of the Planning, Building and Resiliency offices has been a great success," wrote the manager in his summary.

• Utilities: Potential savings $5,000-$10,000

Mr. Cunha has proposed a well be dug at the government center near the town hall. "This well would be funded through the Town Council Contingency Fund," Mr. Cunha wrote. "If it is determined that installation of a well is not feasible, then it is expected that the funds allocated to the Town Council Contingency Fund … be transferred back to the Town Hall Utilities account for payment of BCWA (Bristol County Water Authority) charges."

• Interest on debt: 2.10 percent decrease (From $3,046,956 to $2,982,820)

Off-setting the increases

Despite the lengthy list of increases, officials are expecting only a minor bump to the overall tax levy — a 1.73 increase. That's because Barrington is slated to receive a substantial amount of money for its State School Housing Aid due to the completion of the middle school project. While Barrington received about $184,000 this year, the town is expecting $4.3 million next year.

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