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Council Nearly Half Through Budget Review, Mayor Adjusts for $548K Healthcare Savings

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] From left, front, Dep. Police Chief Michael Babula, Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney, Mayor Scott Avedisian, Finance Director Ernest Zymlinski. in back, from left, are City Clerk Judy Wild and Council President Joseph Solomon Sr.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] From left, front, Dep. Police Chief Michael Babula, Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney, Mayor Scott Avedisian, Finance Director Ernest Zymlinski. in back, from left, are City Clerk Judy Wild and Council President Joseph Solomon Sr.
WARWICK, RI —Warwick City Councillors reviewed just over half of the city’s departments at City Hall Tuesday during budget hearings marked by fortuitous math corrections, including $548,000 in healthcare savings and $5 million extra in revenue.

Mayor Scott Avedisian moved to amend the FY18 budget at the start of the hearing, reducing it by $548,693, saved by the City Council’s recent vote to move to self-insured healthcare with West Bay Community Health during their May 15 meeting.

The residential tax rate would be $20.64, a reduction of .06 cents from .46 to .40, according to a letter the Mayor sent to the City Council Tuesday.

“I know a last minute change like this can be frustrating for all parties, but ultimately, this amendment will result in a savings to taxpayers, which I always consider to be of the upmost importance,” Avedisian said in a release about the adjustment.

The eleventh hour change was not the only math working in taxpayers’ favor Tuesday night.

Councilman Steve Merolla questioned an apparent $5.7 million windfall in city revenue, which he said worried him, pointing to line item 03-100 on page 85 of the Warwick General Fund Budget, where property tax revenue weighed in at $233,739,937 instead of only $228,024,000, or $5,715,937 more than the city anticipated collecting.

“I’ve never seen it be off that much, have you?” Merolla asked.

City Finance Director Ernie Zmyslinski explained the factors leading to the city’s surprise windfall. He said the city enjoyed a higher collection rate this year, that there was a $1.6 million credit to the city thanks to the 60-day rule, where taxes collected in the three months after the close of the fiscal year are applied to the prior fiscal year. Also, Zmyslinski said, some of the estimated tax abatements turned out to be for less than anticipated.

Zmyslinski noted the previous year the situation worked against the city with $3 million less than they’d expected to collect.

“We rely on these numbers to set tax rates. We rely on forecasts that are accurate,” Merolla said, adding that the $5.7 million extra in tax collection was extraordinary in his service on the City Council, which gives him pause about the budget itself.

The recent closure of the Buttonwoods Community Center, which Avedisian said saved the city $82,000 drew criticism from Councilman Steve McAllister. The city’s resources can now be better applied to the repurposing of the Cooper Building., a mile away, as a new community center and teen center, said David Picozzi, interim chief of staff/director of public works.

“We have a budget of over $310,000,000. It is shameful with a budget that large the city chose to close a community center that had a great impact on so many residents. They mentioned getting the Cooper Building for “free” however they have already asked the City council for money for an elevator and other expenses for the building. Before the Cooper Building opens I could easily see it costing more than $82,000 in repairs and upgrades,” McAllister said.

The evening also offered a brief moment of confusion as errant watchdog Stacia Huyler pressed Warwick Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney and Deputy Chief Michael Babula about what she said was a total of 183 police officers in their new budget.

“We have never, ever, been near the numbers that you are citing,” McCartney told Huyler, after he and Babula listened to her question with twinned, perplexed expressions featuring deeply furrowed brows.

Babula and Avedisian each informed Huyler the number of uniformed police officers in the budget is actually 175.

At the moment, McCartney said, the department has 166 uniformed officers. That number will decrease by one on Tuesday with a resignation, so the department will need to recruit another six officers to meet their current full complement of 172. McCartney said he is asking for the council’s support to use a COPS grant to pay for a year’s salaries for three new officers in addition to that.

Warwick Police received a $375,000 COPS grant in October to pay for three new community officers.

“We’re asking for an increase of three people to bring that (the 172 officer complement) up to 175,” McCartney said. He said he would like to be able to send eight people to the police academy for the July class instead of just six.

Councilman Ed Lauouceur noted the COPS grant will run out in a year, which means eventually the city will have to pay for the extra three positions solo.

“Yes, that is correct,” McCartney said.

The next series of budget hearings continue tonight, 5 p.m., on the second floor of City Hall in Council Chambers, 3275 Post Rd, Warwick, RI.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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