Smithfield seeks sweeping budget cuts

Smithfield seeks sweeping budget cuts

SMITHFIELD – A directive by Town Council President Suzy Alba states that Town Manager Randy Rossi should make “significant reductions” to all town department budgets to minimize the impact of this year’s budget on taxpayers.

Each town department from animal control to zoning presented proposed budgets for the 2019-2020 fiscal year to the Town Council on March 26.

The School Department was at the forefront of the presentation, receiving criticism from the council for requesting a 3.27 percent increase in town appropriation in response to a $1.4 million drop in state funding.

The requested increase comes after last November’s taxpayer approval of a $45 million elementary school reconfiguration bond that will cause the town to fund a jump in debt service payments in the coming years.

Councilor Sean Kilduff questioned Supt. Judy Paolucci on the timing of the bond, asking her if she knew about the decrease in state aid before the townwide vote. Paolucci responded that neither she nor the School Committee was aware of the reduction until a short time after election day.

After maximizing potential savings in every department, Paolucci said the $39.7 million budget is as small as possible without reaching the “point of no return.” She said any deeper cuts, which already includes the reduction of one world language teacher at the high school, a part-time music teacher at the high school, one secretary from the central office and another from the high school, are ill-advised. Additional budget cuts to the schools would affect not only staffing, but also future capital improvement plans for school buildings and school programming, she said.

“Taking care of town buildings is the town’s responsibility, not the school,” Paolucci said.

She said the School Department has received a 1.5 percent increase in town appropriation on average over the past two years, and said it’s the town that looks at other departments for budget reductions.

“I challenge you to give that average to the entire town department,” she said.

Alba echoed Paolucci’s sentiment, and requested that Rossi, who will be compiling department requests to form an official town budget to be proposed to the council on April 11, make cuts in every department budget.

The town can’t legally change the autonomous School Department’s budget directly during the budget process, but can decide to adjust the town appropriation amount.

Rossi, former town finance director, said this will be his 11th Smithfield budget but his first working as town manager with the new Finance Director Jason Parmelee and the department heads to create an agreeable spending plan.

“We’re working hard, between myself and my staff, to get the budget (to a) palatable number while maintaining services. We’re not going to diminish quality of life and are not cutting necessary items,” he said.

Rossi said the budget plans for future projects and upgrades. He said the Department of Public Works Director Gene Allen requested a $1.5 million increase in funding, including $1.35 million in capital improvements, for a total department budget of $6.1 million for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

“Gene’s developed a long-term plan for multiple aspects of work that the DPW needs,” Rossi said.

Capital improvements include guardrail upgrades, sidewalk improvements, a public shade tree program, some intersection improvements, recycling and composting facility improvements, a roof and window replacement, floor resurfacing on the main garage, and more.

Fire and police were singled out last week for their budget requests, but for different reasons.

Police Chief Richard St. Sauveur proposed a $10,000 decrease in his budget, requesting a total of $9.3 million.

“I’m all set,” he said.

Fire Chief Robert Seltzer requested a 10 percent increase, or $802,238, which includes 13 new hires funded by a federal emergency management grant that will pay new firefighter salaries to staff the department and cut overtime costs. He said the grant will reimburse the town the additional costs quarterly. After reimbursements, he said the Fire Department is seeking approximately $3,000 more in town contributions.

Rossi will present his budget to the council on April 11. The Town Council will hold a public budget hearing on May 14 at 7 p.m. at Smithfield High School, 90 Pleasant View Ave., where the council can make changes deemed necessary.

Finally, residents propose adjustments and approve the budget through a townwide vote during a June 13 Financial Town Meeting, which will start at 7 p.m. at Smithfield High School.