Challenging budget season ahead for North Smithfield

Challenging budget season ahead for North Smithfield

NORTH SMITHFIELD – With budget discussions well underway in the town’s municipal departments and schools, Town Administrator Gary Ezovski says he expects the fiscal year 2020 budget discussions to be “even more difficult than normal this year” as the town adapts to several changes in revenue and costs.

First on the list of changes is a loss in tangible property tax revenue resulting from the aging of improvements and equipment brought in by local companies. Several years ago, National Grid underwent a series of overhead power main line upgrades that introduced millions of dollars in new tangible property tax into the town budget. With that infrastructure now several years old, its tax value is decreasing even as residential and commercial property values increase following the 2018 revaluation.

“Basically, it comes down to a circumstance where we probably have something that’s close to a 2 percent increase in spending, but we’ve lost a fair amount of tangible value as well as some real estate value,” said Ezovski.

In addition to the loss in tangible tax revenue, Ezovski pointed out the town will face a decrease in real estate tax due to the conversion of the Rehabilitation Center of Rhode Island, owned by Landmark Medical Center and its parent company, Prime Healthcare, to nonprofit status. The town also faces a decrease in vehicle tax value due to the relocation of Stanley Tree Service to Smithfield as well as the continued phaseout of Rhode Island’s auto excise tax, though Ezovski added the impact of this last change may not be as severe as originally expected.

In the meantime, the town is staring at many of the spending increases typical of a municipal budget, including contractual pay raises for town employees. Ezovski said that for employees who are not part of collective bargaining groups, he hopes to continue to offer a 2 percent raise to keep pace with inflation.

“There’s just a myriad of issues, I guess, that are going to contribute to this being a more stressful circumstance,” he said. “My concern is that people will, whether it be the Budget Committee or the council, say well, we can’t continue to do some of the things that we started to do during my administration.”

In previous years, Ezovski has recommended the town put aside funds for post-employment benefits and road improvements. This year, he said, he plans to request $450,000 for road repaving.

“In my budget recommendation, I’m trying to do as much as I can, but I’m also asking the School Department to do as much as they can,” he said.

On the school side, the School Department is requesting the maximum 4 percent town appropriation increase allowable by law, which would result in a 2.16 percent increase to the overall school budget. The requested local increase, said Supt. Michael St. Jean, is partly to make up for a loss in state education aid, which is projected to decrease by 3.7 percent to $5.98 million in fiscal year 2020.

Also impacting the school budget are increases in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs for both special and general education students as well as an increase in the cost of employee benefits. Next year, he said, the district anticipates spending approximately $866,000 in tuition costs for students who choose not to attend North Smithfield schools and another $1.36 million in special education services and placements, up from 732,000 in tuition costs and $1.24 million in special education costs for the current year.

During a joint meeting of the School Committee and Budget Committee on Monday, St. Jean explained to members of the Budget Committee that the high school landscape has become an increasingly competitive environment where students can choose to attend career and technical education (CTE) programs at any public high school in the state. In response, for the first time this year, the School Department included a $5,000 marketing allotment in their budget request to help promote North Smithfield High School and in particular its newly introduced CTE programs. The department has engaged public relations firm Martin & Associates to produce a video with the goal of retaining students in-district and appealing to students from out of town.

“We’re doing a push. We’re looking at convincing the elementary school students, the middle school students that the high school across the parking lot is where it’s at,” said St. Jean.

Following a review by the Budget Committee, the school and municipal budget proposals will be considered by the Town Council, who is expected to vote on them in June.

Comments

We are only as good as our budget, just like a household.While most households are maxed out,let's teach future generations to budget within their means.

Rocky hill is right on point. The town needs to tighten the belt and budget efficiently and effectively. The school department does not warrant any increase. Teachers in NS are among the highest paid in the state. We could not have a middle school principal which could be easily covered by the high school principal and vice principal. We only need 2 advisor instead of three based on student to advisor ratios. Other efficiencies are also available. Gary a budget does not have to increase every year. A good town manager figures out how to do more with less, remove waste, automate processes, and eliminate government inefficiency. Let's change the old RI thinking of a budget increase and do the right thing. Let's make a difference and change the town for the better. Remember spending never solves the problem. Just look at the state of RI budget which is significantly higher than NH and ME and is in worse shape.

“The bottom line here is the budget that I am recommending will require a 5.89% increase in our levy not including the motor vehicle levy which will require a legislative action to override the required 4% cap.” ~Town Administrator Gary Ezovski

From the Town Administrator’s budget message to the Town Council:
“The bottom line here is the budget that I am recommending will require a 5.89% increase in our levy not including the motor vehicle levy which will require a legislative action to override the required 4% cap.”

Taxpayers need to follow this situation very closely.
Mike Clifford

While I agree that we should look for ways to eliminate waste and develop an effective budget, we need to get the facts straight and the comment on teacher salaries prompted me to look at salary levels for RI teachers by district. The NS teachers salaries are rank 30 out of 38 in RI. Far from being at the top, we are hovering in the bottom quartile. I read enough comments about how well teachers in the district are paid that I was almost lulled into believing them. I, for one, I happy I looked.