Rossi: 2020 a tough budget year

Rossi: 2020 a tough budget year

But reasons for optimism with numerous projects

SMITHFIELD – Town Manager Randy Rossi says the upcoming 2020 budget process will be one of the toughest in years due to an estimated revenue shortfall of at least $2.4 million. He made the proclamation during his Jan. 31 address on the state of the town.

Rossi hosted town officials and residents at Navigant Credit Union headquarters on Douglas Pike for a discussion focusing on the budget, current and upcoming developments, and other projects.

The 2020 budget deficit was the highlight of the discussion, and Rossi said the projected shortfall is a result of a $1.5 million reduction in state aid for education, a $97,286 anticipated decrease in “payment in lieu of taxes” funding, a $39,953 expected decline in hotel and meals tax, and between $1 million and $1.6 million less in town internal transfers.

Rossi said the Town Council wants to see a decreased reliance from internal transfers of funds, for example, from third-party billing from the sewer fund, and would like departments, such as the Fire Department, to become more self-funding.

“The only way we can do that is to find a new funding source. It’s been part of the budget for 20 years anyway. I’ve done my part in reducing those funds,” Rossi said.

Rossi said the 2020 revenue shortfall may reach as high as $3 million. He said the town and state are expecting less income and less activity, which accounts for the decrease in payment in lieu of taxes funds given by the state, and from hotel and meals taxes.

Rossi said he and the Finance Department are working to find alternate funding sources and continue to find areas in town government that can be cut back on.

“We’re in the process right now. Exactly how we’re going to do it, I can’t tell you,” he said.

For the second year, town departments are writing a “zero-based budget,” which Rossi said was essentially writing the budget from “scratch.” He said the process helped find cuts last year, and he is hoping it will do so again this year.

To raise tax revenue in town, Rossi said development is key. He listed numerous housing developments that are currently under construction, including Georgiaville Village Green, the Residences at Stillwater Cove, Dean Estates, Cardinal Hill Development, Home 2 Suites, Joseph’s Way, Burlingame Estates and several other small subdivisions.

In addition to new housing construction, Rossi said plans for various properties, such as the Benny’s retail location at 473 Putnam Pike in Greenville and Benny’s mill warehouse at 340 Waterman Ave., are on the horizon.

He said in both cases, the plans will be put before the Planning Board, and the public will have opportunities to hear and discuss plans before the board makes a decision.

According to Rossi, the Economic Growth Overlay District is essential to making Smithfield a “business-friendly community.” He said the development of the Route 116 and Route 7 corridors will provide much-needed tax revenue and services for the community.

Rossi said he will continue to work with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to possibly construct Route 116 ramps to I-295. He said it could help businesses already in the area, and give traffic other options.

“We’re working to develop the Smithfield Peat property. We’re going to need to expand accessibility,” Rossi said.

He said the town worked closely with the Economic Development Commission to improve processes for new and existing business, and conducted a review of town business registration, licenses and fees.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for new business to come,” Rossi said.

He said the town was one of the early implementers of the statewide E-permitting platform that drastically reduced permit issuance wait times.

Other endeavors Rossi hopes to crack this year:

• Completing the street light initiatives to convert lights to LEDs

• Customer service surveys for town services

• Improvements on the capital improvements planning and budgeting process

• Continue the Christmas Parade and annual Family Fun Day

• Join Lincoln and Cumberland to create a Tri-Community Animal Control Facility in Lincoln

• Create Smithfield Restaurant Weeks