RICHMOND — Members of the Finance Board have completed their preparation of the 2020-21 budget. The $27 million spending plan is a 2.2% increase over the current year.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon said department heads had made efforts to hold the line on spending in their budget requests.
“The department heads came in with a request, basically, for level funding of their operating budget, and there is a minimal 2% salary increase for the employees,” she said.
With a revaluation still in progress, the new tax levy is not yet known. The current mill rate is $21.88 per $1,000 valuation.
“The tax revenue increase is around 3%,” Kenyon said. “How that will translate both to the levy or to the tax rate or to an individual property owner cannot be determined until the assessor knows the total valuation of the properties townwide.”
As always, the major factor contributing to the budget total is the town’s share of the $53.5 million Chariho schools budget, which will be just over $20 million, a $196,840, or 1.3%, increase.
Town Council President Richard Nassaney lamented the timing of producing the new budget in light of the financial devastation resulting from the coronavirus and placed the blame for his town's anticipated property tax increase on the Chariho school district. Nassaney also warned warned that residents who have lost their jobs will not be able to shoulder a tax increase.
“This is going to blow up,” he warned. “It’s not going to end up very pretty, and I’m worried, I truly am. And now, with this coronavirus closing down businesses, these are people’s livelihoods. How are they going to be able to absorb another tax increase?”
Other changes in the new budget are an increase in the police department budget of 6.5%, or $130,000, bringing it to $2.1 million. Kenyon attributed the increase to the combined impact of two years’ salary increases, which are both reflected in the 2021 budget.
“That increase is actually a reflection of two years’ increases on a budgetary basis, because we recorded the contract after the budget had been closed,” she said.
The proposed Department of Public Works budget is $1.1 million, an increase of about 8%. The increase is attributed to a request from the department for an additional laborer, at $51,292. The department has also requested $35,000 for tree maintenance and removal, the same amount as the current year.
The town’s unassigned fund balance, or surplus, is $3.7 million or 12%.
The Town Council is scheduled to hold budget workshops on April 15 and April 20, but those might be postponed. The public budget hearing is on May 5 and the Financial Town Meeting will take place on June 8, but Nassaney said the virus restrictions could result in further delays.
“I’m really worried about all this because now ... the budget vote, everything is getting pushed, which is going to change our budget process," he said. "Everything is being messed with.”