CHARLESTOWN — The discussion of the town’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget continued at a public hearing Monday and concluded with an agreement on an amended spending plan of $28.6 million.
The first budget proposal, which was soundly defeated in a June 3 referendum, included the allocation of a $3.1 million surplus to the construction of a new community center at Ninigret Park. The funds were from several sources, including $887,000 resulting from the reduction in Charlestown's payment next year to the Chariho Regional School District.
It is that construction allocation that is blamed for the rejection of the first budget, a spending plan that residents said they were otherwise pleased with. Critics argued that there had not been sufficient public consultation to determine whether residents wanted a community center and they demanded more public consultation.
The council responded by removing the $3.1 million from the construction line item and refunding $1 million of that surplus to taxpayers, lowering the tax levy from the current $9.64 per $1,000 to $9.23.
The council also agreed to commission an independent, town-wide survey, asking residents what recreational facilities they would like to see in the town. The funds for that initiative, $74,500, will come from a refund to the town by the Federal Emergency Management Agency from expenses incurred during a blizzard in February 2013.
Monday’s meeting took place at Charlestown Elementary School in anticipation of a large number of residents who would wish to speak, but in the end, only a handful of people weighed in.
Resident Steven Hoff, a certified public accountant, told the council that after studying the proposed budget, he had determined that the surplus should be calculated not as $3.1 million, but rather as a net surplus of $845,000.
“This is just not descriptive and straightforward so that other people can understand how much is really being generated by this budget,” he said. “This budget is only generating $845,000, and it seems like that’s the number that should go in the budget.”
At Hoff’s suggestion, the council also agreed to transfer the $845,000 into a general fund surplus category where it will remain, unless the town uses some of it to offset further tax reductions in future years.
“We worked very hard for many years to keep Charlestown taxes as low as we can, the fourth - lowest in the state,” council President Virginia Lee said. “If this is in a general fund surplus, the $845,000, can that be used to make up any expenditures so that the tax rate stays low?”
Treasurer Patricia Anderson confirmed that the funds could be used for that purpose.
At the conclusion of the 40-minute discussion, Council Vice President Deborah Carney made a motion to amend the new budget that will be presented at the Financial Town Referendum.
The $3.1 million will be removed from the construction fund, $74,500 will be included for a survey of residents, and $1 million will be used to reduce the tax levy. The net surplus of $845,000 will also be moved to a different budget code.
“We will change the code to read ‘general fund budgeted surplus’ of $845,000,” Carney said. “We will remove the transfer code.”
Voting in the Financial Town Referendum will take place on July 29 at the Town Hall from 8 am to 8 pm.