Newly formed review board will hear Smithfield budget

Newly formed review board will hear Smithfield budget

Worst-case scenario budget proposes 2.44 percent tax increase

SMITHFIELD – The newly formed Smithfield Budget and Financial Review Board will hold its first public hearing on April 14 at 5:30 p.m., giving Smithfield residents a look at the 2021-2022 town budget.

As proposed, the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget will total $85,764,818, including enterprise items such as water, sewer and the ice rink that are self-funded. That figure also includes the schools’ budget of $40,579,679.

Town Manager Randy Rossi told The Valley Breeze & Observer he worked with all town departments to create a solid budget that straight-funded the School Department’s requested town appropriation, resulting in a possible 2.44 percent increase in the tax levy.

If approved as is, the residential tax rate will increase by $0.41 for $1,000 of property from $16.81 to $17.22, and the commercial real estate tax will increase by $0.45 per $1,000 of property from $18.35 to $18.80.

“At the worst-case scenario, that’s a $0.41 increase over two years while at the same time (continuing) with the type of service we want,” Rossi said of the zero percent tax increase in 2020. Rossi said the budget will most likely see a lower tax rate after state funding estimates are finalized.

In 2020, town residents approved replacing the Financial Town Meeting with a Review Board that will present a budget to the Town Council after reviewing the town manager’s budget. The public can comment on the budget at the Review Board hearings and again when the budget is presented to the Town Council.

The board met for the first time at the beginning of the month and has been meeting with department heads to look for possible savings in the budget.

The $45 million elementary school improvement bonds were deferred in this budget cycle while the town pays off other bonds. The town refinanced several bonds in November of last year and secured lower interest rates to the tune of $650,000 in savings, he said.

The Smithfield School Department’s proposed budget increased by 1.3 percent, or $1.27 million, from last year, a requested increase of $403,125 in the town appropriation. Rossi said state aid to the school did not take as great a hit as anticipated, and the district will receive an $868,711 increase in state aid from last year.

Rossi said he thought the relatively minor increase in the local appropriation seemed reasonable and passed it to the Review Board without changes.

Rossi said the town’s budget includes $120,000, not included in the school’s appropriation, that will help cover capital improvements to the Smithfield High School auditorium.

“This is a part of a continued collaboration between our two entities,” he said.

Of the anticipated $2.7 million in federal stimulus funds, Rossi said the town is hesitant to add the funds into the budget until they receive more details on how it can be spent.

COVID-19 did not have as drastic an effect on the town’s finances as expected, Rossi said, and state aid to municipalities and schools did not drop off as much as feared.

Rossi said relying on the stimulus funding to plug gaps in the budget is not well-advised and will create problems in the following year. He added that without knowing where the money can be spent, he would rather wait to use the funding in case additional grants can be used for projects such as helping existing businesses.

“There are so many unknowns for it. We don’t want to spend money that could be covered somewhere else,” he said.

Rossi said increases in the budget stem from continued investment in the community, covering capital improvements for paving roads, improvements to various parks and recreational facilities and replacement of the Esmond Mill Bridge.

To view and participate in the April 14 Review Board meeting via Zoom, follow the link on the town website or call in at 1-866-899-4679 using the access code 833-024-773.

A copy of the proposed budget is available at www.smithfieldri.com .