standing Richmond Town Hall

RICHMOND — It will now be up to the public to decide the fate of a proposed $26.8 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

Members of the Town Council did not make any changes following a final review of the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget and voted Monday to present the plan, which represents a 2.54% increase over the current year’s budget, to the public during a Financial Town Meeting on June 10.

Outgoing Finance Director Kelli Russ led the discussion during Monday’s meeting at Richmond Town Hall, and summarized the budget before fielding questions from town council members and residents, including former council President Henry Oppenheimer.

Russ said the property tax rate would increase by 2.86% in the coming fiscal year, while motor vehicle tax rates would remain unchanged. The town’s current mill rate, the tax rate per $1,000 valuation, is $21.36. 

The group debated at length the prudence of using debt to pay for this year's capital improvements. Russ stated repeatedly she did not feel debt was a responsible way to fund all capital purchases and projects.

“I don’t believe in a plan where you fund all your capital through debt,” Russ explained. “I think it should be a mixture. That’s my personal take on it. That’s your incoming finance director’s take on it. I actively sought her opinion.”

Laura Kenyon, who currently works in Narragansett, will take the reins as finance director from Russ on June 3.

The town’s use of its fund balance and implications of potential changes to its bond rating in the next fiscal year attracted scrutiny. The town's fund balance is currently about 14% of its operating budget, including the school portion, or about $3,685,160.

In her current plan, she estimates the total fund balance will be reduced to 13.26% of its budget in FY 2020. Russ stated she believes the town would be in little danger of losing its bond rating. 

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney discussed the transfer station, inconsistencies with checking for stickers and collecting fees, and the possibility of looking into a potential change to the tipping rate, which now discounts residents who dump large amounts of refuse.

He stated the town would be looking into pricing scale alternatives that were more consistent with both surrounding towns and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp.

Council members also agreed to fund a full-time building official position in the upcoming budget, in addition to maintaining the current part-time staff. A full-time position, Town Administrator Karen Pinch said, would allow for office hours, time, and flexibility to meet with the public.

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