CHARLESTOWN — Members of the Charlestown Budget Commission have moved forward in recommending a budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that would reduce the tax burden by .05 mills and position the community to maintain one of the state’s lowest tax rates.
The commission on Friday passed a recommendation for a $30.24 million combined operating and capital improvement budget for the coming fiscal year, which would represent a 0.37% increase in spending. As presented, the overall budget would require the town levy a tax burden of $8.18 per $1,000 in assessed property, which would reduce the tax burden from the current rate of $8.23.
“The Budget Commission recommends a tax levy (total revenue from taxpayers), essentially similar to last year, with almost all taxpayers receiving a decrease in tax liability, due to growth in the grand list and fund balance usage,” Richard J. Sartor, chairman of the Charlestown Budget Commission, said in a letter to council members.
“The proposed FY 2022 budget recommendation includes and continues to foster near term and strategic thought regarding budgetary goals,” he said.
The proposed budget will now go before the Town Council for review on April 12 at which time the council will adopt a tentative budget to send to a public meeting on May 3. Following the hearing, the council will be required to adopt a budget by May 10 under town charter and voters will be asked to take part in a referendum scheduled for June 7.
Under the proposed budget, the town would designate $12.17 million for department expenditures, a 5.62% increase over current spending, and $13.51 million would be used to fund the town’s portion of the annual Chariho school budget, a 1.41% increase over the 2020-21 fiscal year. The budget also designates $646,941 for debt services, nearly a 35% reduction, and $3.92 million on capital expenditures, an 8.8% reduction.
Despite the reduction in capital spending, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said Tuesday that the budget still addresses community needs and helps prepare the town for the future.
The proposed budget includes funding for the purchase of three replacement police vehicles, a police radio system upgrade, installation of a police fuel management system and an HVAC replacement at the Charlestown Police Department; engineering work for improvements to Charlestown Beach Road; a Department of Public Works fuel-management system and asphalt resurfacing; the purchase of two recreational vehicles; and $1.8 million for the Old Mill Road reconstruction.
The town will use a portion of the unassigned fund balance to help pay for the reconstruction project.
The budget also provides for a $56,800 increase in grant funding for the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service, as the town anticipates an increase in the ambulance service’s annual proposed budget. The town’s share, $324,800, represents 41% of the corps’ budget.
“There is nothing in this budget that would be considered high-profile; it is all solid projects, identifiable needs and anticipated expenditures,” Stankiewicz said. “There are no big projects on the horizon besides Old Mill Road, and much of that expense will be funded through a healthy undesignated balance.”
Sartor said that the town has been able to benefit from a use of the fund balance and growth in the grand list to offset any new expenditures, helping to reduce the burden to taxpayers further during the 2021-22 fiscal year. He said he hopes the proposed budget will continue to maintain quality of life for residents while potentially improving on the community’s stature as having one of the lowest tax rates in Rhode Island.
“Charlestown’s tax rate during the current year 2021 is the fourth-lowest in the state of Rhode Island for residential and commercial real estate, and is also the second-lowest in the state for motor vehicle taxes,” Sartor said. “This proposed budget maintains and quite possibly improves this favorable position.”
While the budget does account for changes in debt services and capital needs, Sartor said the pandemic continues to be a factor in both spending and revenue — especially as the town seeks clarity on what it may receive as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act recently passed by Congress.
“It is expected that the town shall receive some reimbursements for expenses, and also an allocation from recent federal legislation approving local funding,” Sartor said. “The amount, restrictions and conditions associated with additional funding are not yet known, and therefore cannot be reasonably recognized in the general fund budget.”
Stankiewicz said the American Rescue Plan Act funds also “save the state” and provide assurances that the town’s revenues for education and infrastructure are not impacted. Those guarantees help provide peace of mind that will also allow the town to pause and look critically at its risk, an effort that will help to more directly identify and amend policies regarding the reserve fund to better position the town, both in the short- and long-term.
He also praised the work of the town’s Budget Commission, noting that all five members have worked since January to review all line items and craft a budget that protects services and improves quality of life at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
“The real cherry on top here is that we are able to maintain all services, and even improve, while reducing the tax burden,” said Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz. “It is a fortunate circumstance to have in a pandemic and the result of years of hard work by those in our community.”