East Providence Council passes slightly reduced Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget

Proposed tax hike drops from 2.6 to 2.3 percent

By Mike Rego
Posted 10/16/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council ended its deliberations on East Providence’s Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget at final public hearing held Tuesday night, Oct. 15, settling on a total operating …

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East Providence Council passes slightly reduced Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget

Proposed tax hike drops from 2.6 to 2.3 percent

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council ended its deliberations on East Providence’s Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget at final public hearing held Tuesday night, Oct. 15, settling on a total operating expenditure of $163,567,855.

The end tally was a close 3-2 vote. Ward 4 representative Ricardo Mourato cast the deciding lot, adding to the affirmations of Ward 3’s Nate Cahoon and At-Large member Bob Rodericks. Ward 1 rep Bobby Britto and Ward 2’s Anna Sousa declined to support the budget, both citing their desire to see both the overall budget and property tax rate increase reduced even more than what took place. Mr. Mourato, too, said he would have preferred additional cuts, but still voted to approve the document.

Through five workshop sessions and three public hearings, the council reduced Mayor Bob DaSilva’s initial proposed budget of $165.8 million. The cuts also dropped the mayor’s tax hike from 2.6 percent to 2.3. The total tax levy for FY19-20 is $111,145,103.

“This has to be passed tonight, correct? No more discussion on this, so I’ll be the ‘I’,” Mr. Mourato said as he cast the deciding vote. “I’m also not happy with the 2.3. I wish we could have done more.”

City Finance Director Malcolm Moore, when asked for an average affect the tax increase would have per household, told the council owners of a $200,000 home would see an increase of $94 in taxes next fiscal year, $7.83 per month.

“I know we did a lot of work in the time that we were allotted to chisel down this, but I’m still not happy with the overall numbers. I don’t think we did enough savings,” Ms. Sousa said, explaining her vote.

“I’ve got to agree with Councilwoman Sousa. I would have loved to seen this (tax increase) at one-something to be quite frank,” Mr. Britto added. “But I will congratulate everyone for doing such a great job over last week, staying late hours.”

Because of the change in East Providence’s governance to the elected-mayor form and coinciding amendments to the City Charter, the council was working on a strict timeline to approve the budget by Tuesday night. With the budget submitted as an ordinance, the mayor, per charter, has veto power over it. The chief executive has 10 days upon passage to reject the council’s proposal. But the council still has ultimate say in that the body can override said veto by a “super majority” vote, a minimum 4-1 count.

The council, likewise per charter, needed to approve a budget no later than seven days prior to the end of the city’s fiscal year on October 31. The window to potentially override the mayor’s veto, however, meant Tuesday was the last chance for the body to make any changes.

Most of the alterations were unanimously approved by the council, including the largest: reinstating $950,000 into the School Department’s operating budget the mayor wanted to move into a line item dedicated to debt service on the new high school.

The council also nixed another of Mayor DaSilva’s proposals, declining to increase the Homestead Property Tax Exemption rate a half percent to 13.5. It will remain at 13.

There was more Mr. DaSilva requested that the council axed, one of only two division where the body showed any kind of divergence of opinion. After initially slicing over $80,000 from the mayor’s office budget, the body ultimately decided to cut only $47,934, leaving a line item of $463,290. And even that wasn’t enough for some members, as Mr. Mourato and Ms. Sousa voted against the item, each wanting further decreases in the mayor’s office.

The other truly contested vote, another 3-2 decision, came upon approval of the Fire Department’s FY19-20 request. Ms. Sousa again led the charge to trim even more from its coffers, while Mr. Britto, who earlier in the proceedings was challenged by a constituent on the matter of placing an active rescue in his ward at Stations 3 in Rumford, also eventually decided not to support the department’s outlay. The rest of the council coalesced around a couple of reductions totaling $175,000 proposed by Mr. Cahoon, $125,000 from the overtime expenditure, and Mr. Mourato, two separate $25,000 line item drops, for a total of $21,618,819.

Among the hardest hit departments throughout deliberations was Human Resources, which was reduced to a total of $707,997 or $40,500 less than the mayor requested.

The cut prompted an obviously agitated Mr. DaSilva to say, “My understanding of a budget, a city budget is that discretionary spending is minimal…more cuts without any real analysis is difficult in a very important department.”

Two of the other more significant cuts met with the backing of the division directors and were approved Tuesday on 5-0 tallies.

At the suggestion of City Clerk Samantha Burnett, the council reduced her office’s budget to $460,371 or about $208,000 less than initially proposed.

The Police Department, after discussing the topic with Chief William Nebus, was reduced to $15,433,870 after anticipated overtime expense of $515,227 was agreed to be covered by asset forfeiture income. Also, a line item of $1.2 million in detail revenues was separated out of the department’s budget.

Other division cut done by unanimous consent of the council were: Finance to $730,595. Tax Collection to $563,12, Information Technology to $911,724, Planning to $780,527, Miscellaneous/General Government to $6,628,256, Debt Service to $6,049,841, Senior Center to $323,378, Public Works director’s office to $278,471, Refuse Disposal to $2,854,969, Public Buildings to $1,201,714, Animal Shelter to $321,964 and Water to $10,538,474

Besides approving the city’s overall operating budget, Tuesday’s hearing was also used to reallocate and/or increase specific line items. Those matters were posted and per charter needed to be open to public debate before they could be completed.

The council transferred a total of $153,815 into its own budget: $32,175 to its auspices from the Finance Department to oversee the city’s annual independent audit; $75,000 from the Miscellaneous/General Government section into its expenses for legal counsel; and $50,000, again from Miscellaneous/General Government, into its professional services account for outside consultation. The new council total allocation is $180,412.

The council discarded a proposal by the department director and an appointed board member to increase staffing in Canvassing. The body agreed 5-0 not to replace a part-time position with a full-time one. Instead, the council decided to add more monies for another part-time spot. After subtracting unnecessary expenses like a planned special election in November, the actual dollars made available for the second part-time position were $25,000.

Two more advertised changes were also approved unanimously. The Building Inspection Division increased by $3,000 to a total of $845,718 and the Engineering Division was upped $900 to $724,042. Both additions were for increased cell phone expenses next fiscal year.

The outlays for the remaining departments went untouched: Law Department, $376,852; Tax Assessment,$472,407; Recreation, $541,633; Pierce Stadium, $76,500; Carousel, $163,477; Library, $2,486,343; Highway, $4,840,879; Central Garage, $818,537; Harbor Master, $50,652; and Wastewater, $14,212,249.

One final note from the hearing, the council, after discussion on some items, in the end decided to table talk on Capital expenditures. As explained by assistant solicitor Dylan Conley, the council voted to hold the $3,690,897 proposed in lieu of future discussion. The projects and associated monies contained in the Capital budget can be allocated at any time during the next fiscal year.

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