Mayor makes initial Fiscal Year 19-20 East Providence budget presentation to council

Calls for a 2.6 percent tax increase, cuts requested school allocation

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/18/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — Bob DaSilva made his initial budget presentation since becoming East Providence’s first mayor at the November 2018 election, providing the City Council at its Tuesday, Sept. 17, …

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Mayor makes initial Fiscal Year 19-20 East Providence budget presentation to council

Calls for a 2.6 percent tax increase, cuts requested school allocation

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Bob DaSilva made his initial budget presentation since becoming East Providence’s first mayor at the November 2018 election, providing the City Council at its Tuesday, Sept. 17, meeting an overview of his Fiscal Year 2019-20 proposal of approximately $165.8 million.
The total is a $4.8 million or three percent increase from the current fiscal year and would require a 2.6 percent hike of the city’s three tax categories: residential, commercial and tangible. Somewhat counteracting the property tax raise, Mayor DaSilva proposed upping the Homestead exemption by a half-percent to 13.5. Of note, the mayor explained some $1.4 million of the increase in spending would go towards payment of debt on the new $189.5 million East Providence High School.
Reading from prepared text, which was included with his proposal and can be viewed in full online, Mayor DaSilva told the council, “This budget represents our priorities and vision for the community. This budget has been crafted with much care over the past few months taking input from department and division heads, the school department and the community. My goal as mayor of this fine city is to make East Providence the first place you choose to live, work, educate and raise your families. As you read through the budget, you will see where our priorities lie and for me it is working to make East Providence number one.”
The council and the mayor did not engage in any kind of discussion Tuesday because none was called for on the meeting’s agenda. The council did set up a schedule for both public hearings and workshops, which will take place as follows: Wednesday, Sept. 25, workshop; Tuesday, Oct. 1, public hearing; Thursday, Oct. 10, workshop; Tuesday, Oct. 15, public hearing.
The only point of contention explicitly broached Tuesday was about Mayor DaSilva’s plan to trim some $950,000 from the budget submitted by Superintendent Kathryn Crowley and approved by the School Committee.
The superintendent requested about $2.39 million more in city side aid, which according to her and District Finance Director Craig Enos was an increase of just over $266,000 in actual dollars year-to-year.
Recent events, however, led the mayor to slash the request by nearly $1 million.
Over the last week, it was confirmed through the annual independent audit of the East Providence's finances, the city has been holding $6.5 million in state reimbursement dollars owed to the school department (See story on page 5). Mayor DaSilva said that money, which will be transferred to the district, represented a windfall for the schools and meant he did not believe it needed as much additional funding from the city. Instead, he proposed putting the $950,000 into a separate specified account to pay the debt on the new EPHS.
“I do not believe that this additional nearly $1 million for school capital improvements is prudent at this time given the tremendous future debt load that the city's taxpayers will incur for our new high school. To ask our taxpayers to pay another $950,000 for school capital in addition to the already accumulated $6.5 million is just too much. Therefore, I will not be including $950,000 in the School Department's budget, but instead will be allocating $950,000 into a restricted debt service account in the city’s budget to be used exclusively for future debt payments for the new high school.”
As expected, Superintendent Crowley did not take the news well. During public comment, she told the council in just the last week the district had incurred some $600,000 in new tuition costs for special education students under the auspices of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which taking into the account the mayor’s cut would put the district in arrears over $200,000 before the next fiscal year even began.
“I think that we presented a very good budget this year. You can see most of it is salaries and benefits. We had very little that we were working with in the general budget. So I think that it is a fair and equitable budget,” Superintendent Crowley said, adding, “With this already starting at a deficit I have some real concerns about what we will able to continue to do…I am very concerned about that $950,000 cut.”
The superintendent explained the money the mayor proposed to decrease, which was removed from the district’s construction line item, is meant to construct new security foyers at some of its older buildings as well as for new windows at Riverside Middle School and a new heating boiler at Kent Heights Elementary School.
The only intervention by a council came from Ward 3 member and former School Committeeman Nate Cahoon, who at the district’s budget presentation to the body two weeks ago noted the city’s allocation to its schools remains well below that of like municipalities such as Warwick and Cranston.
He asked Mr. Enos to confirm the district’s total request from the city, approximately $50 million absent what schools receive in state aid, would for the first time in recent memory would cover just the salaries of department employees.
“So presumably a reduction in $950,000 would mean the City of East Providence would not be covering even the salaries of the employees of the School Department?” Mr. Cahoon asked, to which Mr. Enos replied succinctly, “Correct.”

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