WESTERLY — The Board of Finance will recommend implementation of a teacher retirement incentive to Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau as a means to reduce operating expenses.
The board agreed Thursday to make the recommendation, which was proposed by Stephen Lynner, a member of the board. Overall, the board said that the early retirement incentive combined with other cuts they will recommend would reduce Garceau's proposed $60,437,244 budget for 2019-20 by about $1.5 million.
The finance board's two workshops this week included discussion of ways to reduce potential operating and capital costs for both the town and the school system as well as ways to develop new revenue sources.
Lynner said he developed his proposal based on information Garceau shared about a previous early retirement incentive. According to Lynner, the school district offered a $30,000 one-time payment, which five teachers accepted. Having teachers retire is viewed as a means to reduce costs because younger, less experienced teachers would be hired to replace them at lower salaries. To fund the program, Lynner recommended using $500,000 from the district's fund balance or surplus account. The fund balance would be replenished with savings from the retirements, he said.
"You just figure out what those numbers are in terms of the structure of the program. You could have a material impact ... then the budget starts looking a lot better because then your increase in the budget is reduced by that savings achieved by buyouts coming from fund balance but lower operating expenses," Lynner said.
The board also plans to ask Garceau to cut his proposed $900,000 increase in expenditures for out-of-district regular education by $500,000 based on hopes that a new criminal justice career and technical program planned for Westerly High School and other efforts would help stem the tide of Westerly students attending Chariho High School. Chariho Tech offers criminal justice courses and other career and technical education programs.
Kenneth J. Swain, finance board chairman, who suggested the out-of-district regular education cut, also proposed reducing Garceau's capital improvement request by about $217,000 by tearing down but not replacing failing bleachers at Augeri Field at the high school, and by not funding proposed capital projects at the town's three elementary schools.
"Those could be covered by the bond," Swain said referring to a proposed $71.4 million school redesign project that is focused on improving the district's elementary schools
The board also continued its review of Town Manager J. Mark Rooney's proposed $39.14 million municipal services budget for 2019-20. One discussion point involved Rooney's request to increase the town's grant administrator position from part-time to full-time with a salary and benefits cost of $54,000. Swain proposed keeping the position part-time or contracting it out, but was persuaded to follow Rooney's suggestion. Rooney and other board members said the position could pay for itself or lead to an increase in revenue.
Rooney said the town's efforts to hire a part-time grant administrator had yielded no suitable candidates since the position became vacant in July.
Another potential tool to increase revenues could be through development of an ordinance that would require homeowners who rent out their homes for vacationers to register with the town. It would be a means to increase the town's share of the state lodging tax, Rooney said on Tuesday.
Rooney said he had directed the municipal staff and the town attorney to study the proposal, which he said would be largely aimed at Airbnb-type services, to help determine whether it would be worth pursuing. "That's a political step ... I don't know if it will be fraught with 'don't do it' because there will be a backlash," Rooney said.
He went on to explain the need. "We have to find a new revenue source because everything else is flat and we have almost exponential increases in some expenditures. We need a new revenue stream," Rooney said.