Editor’s note: The Council Update is a twice-monthly update on Council meetings and developments from Warwick City Council President Steve McAllister. The column is written after each council meeting, twice a month. This review of Warwick City Council events has been lightly edited to update time references, for grammar, and to include referential links for further reading.
After over 10 hours of debate and discussions over two nights, the Warwick City Council voted on the over $350 million budget. 47.37% is for city expenses and 52.63% is for the school department. This budget does increase taxes 2.9% which is below inflation. It is also the first tax increase in three years. Costs continue to climb and therefore it was necessary to raise taxes this year.
There were a number of amendments that were proposed by council members that were debated and voted on. One major one was about giving additional money to the school department above the 2.8% increased which was in the Mayor’s budget. The school department is also going to receive additional funding from the state on top of the city’s increase.
Councilman Sinapi did an outstanding job working directly with the school department and school committee to have them come up with a list of items that they would be able to fund if they received additional funding from the City. While I agreed with Councilman Sinapi that all the items they listed are important, I felt the school department could find ways to fund them with the funds proposed in the Mayor’s budget. The school department is going to see a huge increase in their budget this year between the city and state around $7 million. This number could also increase when the state budget is finalized. Included in the City’s contribution is $1 million in APRA funds. Councilman Sinapi suggested using an additional $370,000 of City APRA funds to increase the school budget.
My position was the City side of the budget also needs those one time APRA funds and they should stay with the City. I was supportive of giving the schools the $1 million of APRA funds, but I did not want to increase it further. These APRA funds are going to be used for new recuses and fire trucks, city vehicles, upgrades at the police department headquarters, additional resources for parks and recreation, senior services, public works, animal shelter, the lighthouse, new public skating rink and more. We all would love to fund every department and every request, but there is only so much money, so tough decisions need to be made. Councilman Sinapi’s amendment to increase the school budget $370,000 did not pass. I voted no. 5-4 was the vote. Later there was a smaller increase to the school budget of $15,000 that Councilman Sinapi identified in the budget and that was approved 7-2 and I did support it.
The other big debate was on fire overtime. Councilman Gephart made a few amendments to reduce the fire overtime budget and put those funds into the rainy day account. I agreed with my colleague that we have hired a number of new firefighters over the past two years and fire overtime should start to be reduced. However, I know that there are many factors outside the Fire Chief’s control when budgeting for overtime. There are minimum manning rules that are state law that determine how many firefighters must be on for a shift. So no matter what, if a firefighter is off that spot needs to be filled. Most of the time that results in overtime. While I supported the idea that Councilman Gephart was looking to do and have voted for similar amendments in the past, I could not support it last night. Overtime is going to happen so we should have an accurate number in the budget for that expense. Even if we did reduce the number in our budget, once those funds are exhausted we would still have to pay for continued overtime. We must have firefighters working every shift and there are state laws, that we at the local level have no control over. Councilman Gebhart’s motions did not pass and I voted no.
Councilman Ladouceur and Council Rix also had a number of amendments on expenses and OPEB. Councilman Rix had an amendment to increase the tax rate higher than proposed to help pay for city obligations. Councilman Ladouceur had an amendment to cut school funding to pay for city expenses and long term obligations. He also looked to make some reductions in other line items and place those funds in the rainy day account. These amendments did not pass, and I voted no on each of them. There were two small housekeeping type amendments I proposed that did pass, but they had no impact on the tax rate. You can review the budget hearing on our YouTube page and hear each council person propose and explain their amendments. Each gave detailed and thoughtful comments for each amendment they proposed.
I want to commend all my colleagues on the work they did on this budget. Each council person put a lot of time and thought into this process. Even though a number of amendments did not pass, each one came from a council person who wants help and support our community.
We did experience some technical issues which delayed the start of the meeting about 45 minutes and were not completely fixed until later in the evening.
Have a great weekend. Please join us for a Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday at 10am at Warwick Veterans Middle School.
President Warwick City Council
This is a test