CHARLESTOWN— Members of the Budget Commission heard funding requests Wednesday from the Charlestown Ambulance Corps, the Chamber of Commerce, the organizer of the annual Memorial Day parade, and the library.
The fiscal 2020 spending plan, as of Feb. 27, stood at $26 million; the capital budget and the tax rate have not been decided. The current property tax rate is $9.64 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, and the motor vehicle tax rate is $13.08. A statistical revaluation taking place this year will affect tax rates in 2021.
Meeting twice a week, the commission, which is chaired by Richard Sartor, will present a proposed budget to the Town Council on March 31.
Andrew Kettle, chief of the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service, told the commission that the ambulance corps, which has had financial problems in the past, had made significant progress over the past year in its accounting and other administrative practices. He presented a request for $200,000. The current year's budget is nearly $169,000.
“I feel we’re making pretty significant progress from where we were,” Kettle said. “We have a pretty solid budget and we’re on-budget for almost every line item.”
John Reardon, president of the ambulance corps, said that call volume had increased by 31 percent and the corps needed to hire another person during the busy summer season.
“We’re looking for additional personnel, particularly during those summer months where the trend is significant in terms of our call volume,” he said. “Having one additional individual during the summer months on the weekends, which saw a spike in terms of usage, would certainly help.”
Chamber of Commerce
The Charlestown Chamber of Commerce requested $10,000 in new funding to maintain the town’s 10 “gateway island” decorative plantings, which are located at highway exits.
Executive Director Heather Paliotta explained that in previous years, revenue from the Big Apple Circus, which no longer performs in Charlestown, covered the cost of maintaining the islands. The chamber receives $3,000 in annual funding from the town, but it is not sufficient to maintain the islands, she said.
“The chamber has taken the responsibility of paying for all of that and we spend a lot,” she said. “We probably spend $18,000, $19,000 a year on the islands, which are beautiful … Between the landscaping and the mulching and the weeding, it’s a lot for the chamber.”
The alternative is to stop maintaining the plantings and allow them to revert to grass, which would be mowed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, which maintains Route 1. The commission agreed to consider the chamber’s request.
Sartor said, “The issue of taking over something that’s a state responsibility — not that we might not do it, but we need to be cognizant of that in every case, because the standards they maintain might not be the standards we want in our community.”
Additional funding requests at Wednesday’s session included $245,682 from the Cross Mills library and $5,000 for the town’s Memorial Day parade.
The commission has received notable requests for additional funds at previous meetings, including a proposal for an in-house information technology department, which would add $236,000 to the budget. The commission, which has expressed a desire for improved customer service and fewer computer crashes, was expected to approve the request
Another request, from Building Official Joe Warner, would expand the hours of the town’s part-time officer to full-time in order to keep up with the heavy volume of permit requests. That additional salary, and scheduled raises for all department employees, would raise Warner's budget by $35,588, to $259,211.
The animal shelter, which has requested $40,000 for a new septic system, also recently submitted a proposal for the expansion and modernization of the shelter. The cost of the project is expected to be several hundred thousand dollars, although Sartor would not confirm an amount.
“What I saw today was something I had not seen before and it came in an email yesterday, and it’s for a pretty significant expansion of the animal control facility,” he said. “We haven’t yet had a chance to examine it in any depth so I really can’t answer much, other than members of the budget commission have recognized the need to improve the animal control facility to a degree … This is the first time we’ve seen a proposal. It was not proposed as a capital project early on in the budget.”
Sartor said that since the budget process had begun, the commission had quickly approved some requests and deferred others.
“Many of the decisions in the operating departments, when we hear those departments, we decide then,” Sartor said. “In cases where there are questions about policy or magnitude or dollar amount, fiscal issues, we sometimes hold them back until we have an opportunity to get further information. There are others, such as the ones we’ve just done that are grants and aid, and we look at the total amount of grants and aid we’re providing. So oftentimes, even though we hear them piecemeal over the course of the weeks, we don’t make final decisions until we’re able to look at the whole picture and what the total would be and how that fits within our capabilities.”