It is the second year the council has approved a budget with no tax increase, and the fourth time in the last five years. Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix and Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur cast the two votes against approval, both citing concerns about future financial hardships for the city.
The only amendment to the Warwick budget that passed was a motion made by Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi to transfer $120,000 from the public works budget for asphalting into the school department’s budget. Sinapi said it is expected that the transfer would pay for two second grade teaching assistants.
“I am proud of the budget the City Council passed last night,” Council President Stephen McAllister stated. “A no tax increase budget that has major investments in our schools, infrastructure, neighborhoods and community assets. This past year the city council worked together to address our aging fleet, our sanitation issues and continued fighting the impact COVID had on our lives and government.”
McAllister said the city will continue to grow in the next year.
“There are a number of additional housing projects coming online, and more businesses are opening or expanding in Warwick,” he said. “We also continue to make major improvements and investments in our schools, infrastructure and our neighborhoods.”
Rix made a motion to increase the budget by $4 million, a move he said would also increase the tax rate by about 2 percent. Rix said he wanted to earmark that $4 million towards the city’s Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) line item.
But that motion was not seconded by another council member and failed.
Before the final vote on the FY23 Warwick budget, Rix laid out some of his concerns with the budget and why he was voting against it.
“Salaries and benefits continue to rise, and we have additional costs due to inflation,” said Rix, citing fuel and energy costs. “We have a lot of different areas where costs continue to increase, not to mention OPEB.”
He added that the FY23 budget is also counting on $4 million in municipal property sales that won’t be available in future years.
“I’m afraid that in Fiscal Year ‘24, or when the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds run out, we’re going to hit a fiscal cliff,” said Rix. “I hope that I am wrong, I really do, and I wish that we could sustain zero percent tax increases, but looking at the numbers, I just don’t see how that is sustainable.”
Ladouceur said he has given a lot of thought to the budget, and the long-term financial standing of the city, and noted that no one ever wants to raise taxes. He added that in business, if you go four of five years without raising prices, the business won’t succeed.
“I truly believe the people we represent don’t get angry when their taxes are raised per se, they get angry with how we spend their hard-earned tax dollars,” he said.
Ladouceur said Warwick is in a unique financial situation this year with windfalls because of ARPA and other Covid relief measures, and added he believed most of those funds would be used for one and done types of expenses.
But he said he is concerned with the impact a no-tax increase budget will have on the financial outlook of the city in the coming years.
Ladouceur said future administrations and councils will be forced to make some tough decisions.
“Until all of us have the desire to cut the spending, to reduce the cost of healthcare to the taxpayers, to increase the cap on those prescription drugs, to eliminate the lifetime healthcare for new hires, until the administration and city councils here and going forward, until that part of the problem is solved, you’re not going to have the $120,000 to bring in the (teaching assistants),” Ladouceur said.
Sinapi’s motion to transfer the $120,000 from the public works budget to the schools budget to hire the two teaching assistants passed by an 8-1 vote, with Ward Councilman Vincent Gebhart casting the lone no vote.
While Gebhart was the only dissenting vote, several other councilors noted that the school department should have been able to find the $120,000 within the money it already had in the budget.
“It’s pretty disappointing to me that between the School Committee and the administration that they were not able to come up with some cuts to take care of the problem,” said Ladouceur.
While Ladouceur ultimately voted for the amendment, he said he would like to be notified by the administration when the school department hires the two teaching assistants.
Picozzi said he was taking no official stance on Sinapi’s amendment, but added that the city would have more than enough money to cover all the paving projects it has on its dockets, even with the loss of the $120,000.
“We are going to remain Switzerland on this one,” said Picozzi. “I just want to speak to transferring money, we can find a way to replace it with ARPA funds. It doesn’t mean that any less paving will be done this year.”
An amendment presented by Gebhart to transfer $4,500 from the planning department’s professional services line item to the Land Trust Board failed.
Picozzi noted that any money needed for the Land Trust is currently available through the planning department.
“I don’t know any reason to transfer the money over; I don’t know what purpose it would serve,” said the mayor. “I would rather keep everything under the planning department, because we do have a great planning department that supports and is in favor of the responsible acquisition of open space.”
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