WESTERLY — The Board of Finance is calling for re-establishment of the Plan B Committee, a panel that previously met to monitor the town's annual budget to help ensure revenues and expenditures were on track.
The board made its request to the Town Council Monday as part of a presentation on the board's recommended 2019-20 municipal government and education budget. The Plan B group would work to "resolve upcoming and outstanding budget issues and provide higher-level guidance on an ongoing basis," according to an appendix that accompanied Finance Board Chairman Kenneth J. Swain's letter to the the council outlining the budget.
The Plan B Committee started in 2009 as town officials struggled with falling revenues resulting from the national economic recession. Brian McCuin, who was on the Town Council at the time, was instrumental in the formation of the committee, which consisted of the town manager, superintendent of schools, members of the finance board, and finance staff for the town and schools. Two Town Council members were assigned liaison status to the committee.
On Monday, McCuin, who was re-elected to the council in November after a few years off of it, said the committee worked once all of the parties bought in to the process. "Everyone actually worked together. There were no turf wars ... they all worked together because they were all facing the same thing," McCuin said.
Under the finance board's recommendations, the Plan B panel would meet at least quarterly to study revenues and expenditures in the current budget, carve out parameters for the next budget and help design a long-term capital spending plan for both the town and the school district.
"There appears to be a lack of a coherent long-term town and school capital planning process," a passage of the appendix reads.
The board recommended a $96.3 million combined municipal government and education budget with $38.65 million in town spending and $57.7 million for the school district. The overall increase is 12.47 percent, but that metric is distorted by a $3 million expenditure for land on White Rock Road that the town is buying for a solar power project. The $3 million, under terms of the sales agreement, will be paid back to the town in the same budget. If the land purchase is removed from the budget, the spending plan represents a 2.91 percent increase from the current budget.
The board reduced the budget request from Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau and the School Committee by $1 million and Town Manager J. Mark Rooney's request by $2.36 million.
Other highlights of the proposed budget are $370,000 as the town's first payment for the road bond approved by voters in November. Voters agreed to borrowing up to $15 million from the state Infrastructure Bank over five years. The budget also reflects a contractually-driven increase in wages that were unaccounted for in the current budget.
The proposed budget includes use of $171,000 from the town's undesignated fund balance, or surplus, toward three capital projects: a new roof at the Adult Day Center on Union Street, work on the parking lot at the Westerly Senior Citizens Center, and $66,000 toward the cost of the portion of the White Rock Road property that will not be reimbursed by the project developer.
The budget includes funds for a new part-time harbormaster, moving a municipal grant administrator position from part-time to full-time, and hiring two part-time building inspectors to replace the current system of contracting out for the services.
The Town Council will begin its review of the proposed budget during a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the Municipal Courtroom at Town Hall. The Town Council, which has final authority over the budget unless a referendum is sought by voters, is required to conduct at least two public hearings on its proposed budget.
The final hearing must be conducted no later than the fourth Wednesday this month. The council then files a proposed budget with the Town Clerk, who must have the budget published within seven days. Voters then have eight days to review the budget. If voters present a petition signed by at least 3 percent of the town's qualified voters within the eight-day period, a referendum will be scheduled.