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Coventry Budget: Town ‘Moving Forward’ Says Parrillo

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Coventry Town Manager Daniel Parrillo, in his office at Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road, Coventry, RI.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Coventry Town Manager Daniel Parrillo, in his office at Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road, Coventry, RI.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski]
Coventry Town Manager Daniel Parrillo, in his office at Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road, Coventry, RI.
COVENTRY, RI — The Coventry budget for FY24 shows the town is “moving forward” after a tumultuous 18 months that saw its town council replace several top administrators, Town Manager Daniel Parrillo said during a recent interview.

According to a summary published by the town, the Coventry budget is proposed to increase by $2.5 million, to $116.9 million in FY24. If passed, the FY24 budget would result in a tax increase of about $3 million, or just under 4 percent.

Parrillo, the former Cranston director of administration hired to the Coventry post in February,  explained that the goal for the budget process has been to restore confidence among staff and taxpayers, while also determining its outlook for the next several years.

“I think ‘moving forward’ is probably the best way I could describe it — addressing legacy issues that are here, while at the same time looking toward the future,” Parrillo said.

Among those legacy issues are long-delayed repairs to town roads and bridges, leading to a proposed increase of $322,000, or about 13 percent over the amount budgeted in FY23.

“It’s been seven years since we’ve had an actual paving program,” said Parrillo.

School costs are expected to increase by about $2 million in FY24, with state aid picking up most of the increase. The town’s contribution is proposed to go up by $500,000, though it is effectively offset by the council’s decision not to renew an FY23 capital improvement line item for schools.

Coventry will also be applying some $1.2 million in America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to school and town improvement projects, Parrillo explained.

“There are some long-term legacy infrastructure issues that we haven’t been able to deal with,” said Parrillo. “Some of that is going to be addressed with ARPA, because infrastructure is an allowable use of that [funding], and that’s a big part of it to reset the foundation and be able to move forward with some of these projects.”

Parrillo also noted the challenges of passing a budget amid the fallout from the termination of former Town Manager Benjamin Marchant in January due to “a pattern of negligent performance,” including failures to properly supervise town departments, file required financial documentation, and protect town property, according to a town council review of his tenure.

In the aftermath of Marchant’s firing, Parrillo said he spent a lot of time communicating with town hall staff to understand their concerns and work to address them.

“They wanted someone to come in to build relationships, someone to communicate with, someone who gave them purpose, and I don’t think that existed here prior to me,” said Parrillo. “There was a big disconnect between the administration, the directors, and front-line personnel. So that’s been my goal, is to establish those relationships, build those lines of communication, tell them why they’re doing something as opposed to just telling them to do it: ‘This is how you’re part of the big picture.'”

So far, Parrillo explained that he’s found administrators and staffers to be receptive to that kind of collaboration.

“We’re working together, building those bridges so we can get things done to benefit the residents and the business owners, to show that we’re on the right track, doing the right thing [and giving taxpayers] confidence that when this budget passes, your tax dollars are going to the future.”

New process for FY24 budget

For the first time in recent history, a Coventry budget will not be decided at a financial town meeting (FTM) this year and will instead be approved by the town council.

Local voters in the 2022 election approved a change to the town charter, by a 57-to-43-percent margin, that replaced the practice of an all-day referendum with a requirement that a supermajority of four out of five town councilors must approve the budget.

Parrillo said the new process prevents small groups of citizens from overturning the month’s-long efforts of town officials to develop a spending plan.

“You could have 2,600 people (at an FTM) dictating to 36,000,” Parrillo said, “so I think that was the main reason why it went on the ballot in November — because of that frustration that I don’t think everyone felt that they were being fairly represented. If you weren’t part of that 2,600 for whatever reason, it was being dictated to you.”

With the charter change, Parrillo observed that voters can still give their input on the budget during school committee and council meetings and feel confident with a more efficient approval process.

“The voters decided that, ‘Yes, we elect the council to be our representatives, give them the authority to pass a budget after we go through all the stipulations of public hearings and directors coming forth and all of that process — and give then the authority to say OK, we agree, [budget] approved, let’s move forward.'”

After a hearing in May was cancelled for lack of seating capacity at the Town Hall Annex Auditorium, the Coventry Town Council is scheduled to vote on the FY24 proposal on June 22 starting at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at Coventry Town Hall, 1670 Flat River Road.

Info on viewing the June 22 Budget Livestream on YouTube
Coventry Town Meeting schedule

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 WarwickPost.com. Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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