March 31, 2014 10:18AM
By NANCY LAVIN
Sun Staff Writer
CHARLESTOWN— The Budget Commission was scheduled to submit a recommended $26.49 million budget to the Town Council today.
Through roughly three months of meetings, the five-person board has cut approximately $300,000 from Town Administrator Mark Stankiewiscz’s $25.78 million proposal. The current budget is $29.36 million.
The property revaluation by Tax Assessor Kenneth Swain, as required every three years, resulted in a $60.5 million decrease in the town’s grand list of taxable property. Swain noted that the revaluation process highlighted variations in the real estate market. For property valued at $150,000 or below, values remained flat, according to Swain. Mid-level properties, between $200,000 and $750,000 lost value, and those above $2 million increased in value.
“Financially, there’s just no availability of money right now,” Swain said, referring to a decrease in property sales in the town. “It makes it very difficult right now.”
Swain noted, however, that compared to a $405 million decrease in assessed property value following the previous revaluation in 2011, the $60 million loss in value shows improvement.
With these figures in mind, the commission worked to provide what Chairman Rick Sartor described as a maintenance budget, decreasing the proposal total by .24 percent from the 2013-2014 fiscal budget.
“The goal is to maintain and improve the level of town services while also practicing fiscal responsibility,” Sartor said.
Paying off the $2.8 million balance on the town’s new police station in the previous year’s budget, combined with a roughly $300,000 decrease in the town’s contribution to the Chariho Regional School District budget, helped decrease the bottom line. The commission made further cuts in several other areas, including $260,000 budgeted to build new tennis courts at Ninigret Park. Commission members discussed several other methods to fund the courts, which all agreed are in dire need of restoration, before agreeing to list the project as a warrant item on the ballot, allowing voters to decide if it should be included in this year’s budget expenditures.
Other areas of the budget, including personnel benefits and wages, increased. Both the budget commission and the town administrator proposals include $120,000 to install composting toilets at the town’s beaches. The public works department budget request also increased from $1.02 million in the previous fiscal year to $1.10 for this year’s proposal, with increases stemming from personnel costs, along with overtime and maintenance supplies, in part caused by the harsh winter this year.
The budget proposal includes $200,000 taken from the town’s general fund balance, or surplus.
Sartor cautioned that while some use of the balance was necessary, the town should be careful not to rely too much on the surplus to balance the budget.
“I look at it as mortgaging the future,” Sartor said, referring to the effect of using surplus funds in future budgets.
The town charter requires the commission to submit the budget to the council by March 31. A letter explaining the commission’s recommendations also will be submitted. The commission will offer a more detailed presentation to the council on April 14.