WESTERLY — Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy presented his proposed 2018-19 budget to the Board of Finance Tuesday. The plan includes a revision that would reduce overall spending by about $711,000 from the proposal he released on Feb.20.
Kennedy is now calling for the use of $711,000 from the $1.4 million surplus anticipated in the 2016-17 budget to “prepay” for one-time capital spending and restricted account items that were originally part of the proposed 2019 budget. The funds would be transferred into the current budget and the items purchased or paid for in that spending plan.
The remaining surplus from 2016-17 would be applied to the undesignated fund balance or overall surplus, bringing the total of that fund to about $15.1 million. An audit of the 2016-17 financial records is nearing completion.
By using the end-of-year money, Kennedy said the town would avoid budgeting the use of surplus funds, which he had proposed in the original version of his 2018-19 budget. The practice of using the surplus to balance budgets is frowned upon by bond rating agencies. “I don’t want to use fund balance and I know the Board of Finance and Town Council doesn’t want to,” Kennedy said.
Under the new plan the combined municipal and school budget for 2018-19 is proposed at $90,864,882, a 2.5 percent increase over current spending. Kennedy’s original plan represented a 3.5 percent increase from current spending. The new proposed budget would require a 11.79 mill rate, a 1.73 percent increase, as opposed to the 11.91 mill rate required for Kennedy’s original proposal.
Kennedy provided a overview of his budget, which focuses on two central themes — investment in personnel through training and professional development and tending to the town’s infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks.
Spending on professional development, department-wide, would increase from $74,601 to $139,582.
As an example of the infrastructure focus, the proposed budget includes the second year of a three-year step-up in road and sidewalk spending that Kennedy proposed and the Town Council agreed to during its deliberations in 2017. Additional road work is likely to be accomplished through a road bond that could be on the ballot in November, officials have said.
Kennedy is also calling for the creation of three new full-time positions, including an assistant town manager position with a salary and benefits package of $80,000. The position is needed, he said, because “the day-to-day work required to manage the total operations of the town as well as the expectation on overarching leadership, direction and focus of strategic planning are all encompassing and does not allow for the type of information that the Town Council is looking for and the type of information I know the public is desperately looking for also.”
An assistant town planner, also proposed in Kennedy’s plan at a salary of $60,000, is needed to free up the town planner to focus on strategic planning and to allow more time for work that the Planning Board is hoping to accomplish, he said.
The proposed budget also calls for hiring an assistant director of public works for utilities, and a fourth lieutenant’s position in the Westerly Police Department. The lieutenant position would be created by not filling leaving an anticipated patrol officer vacancy. For the third consecutive year, Kennedy is also requesting the addition of a part-time code enforcement officer. The position has been cut from proposed spending plans in the previous two years.
A new part-time animal control officer position is also requested.
An anticipated 12 percent increase in the cost of providing health insurance benefits for town employees is driving part of the overall spending increase. Kennedy is also proposing to fund the police pension and post-employment benefits for retired police officers at the rate recommended by the town’s actuarial firm for the second year in a row.
The board agreed to Kennedy’s request to hold off on detailed questions until Thursday, when the board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.