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Coventry Decides on Trimmed $108M Budget June 13

[CREDIT: Robert Ford] An electronic messaging sign urging Coventry voters to get out and vote on the revised town and school budgets, June 13 stands at the intersection of Sandy Bottom and Tiogue Avenue.

[CREDIT: Robert Ford] An electronic messaging sign urging Coventry voters to get out and vote on the revised town and school budgets, June 13 stands at the intersection of Sandy Bottom and Tiogue Avenue.
[CREDIT: Robert Ford] An electronic messaging sign urging Coventry voters to get out and vote on the revised town and school budgets, June 13 stands at the intersection of Sandy Bottom and Tiogue Avenue.
COVENTRY, R.I. — Coventry Voters will get a $450,000 cheaper bite from the budget apple Tuesday, June 13 after rejecting the original spending plan in May.

Edward Warzycha, interim town manager explained in a phone interview that state law requires the town have a voter-approved budget in place by the start of the 2020 fiscal year July 1. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

“If the voters turn it down (the budget) again, we’ll have to continue to go through the process, until it’s approved,” Warzycha said.

With each new vote comes the ancillary costs of legal ads in the local papers notifying residents of the new vote, and printing material explaining the change in the referendum from the one that was defeated.

Since it takes two to three weeks to get a new vote in place, Warzycha says there is little time for more than one or possibly two votes before everything has to be in place by July 1.

A Leaner Budget for Voters

The latest budget numbers as approved by the Town Council call for an operating budget of $108 million, and a reduction of about half a percent from the budget defeated by voters. The original budget was 3.99 percent more than last year’s. The City Council  has since adopted a revised budget to put before voters which is just 3.47 percent more than last year.

Warzycha said about $150,000 in town spending, and $600,000 in school spending would be cut from the budget in the new spending plan.

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If approved, the revised spending plan property tax rates would be $22.24 for residential properties, and $26.81 on commercial properties, Warzycha said. For the average home assessed at $217,000,  a property owner would see a $136 increase in their property tax bill.

Low Voter Turnout, High Stakes

One of the concerns for town and school officials is the notoriously low turnout for the vote. Warzycha said he’s optimistically hoping that about 8 percent of registered voters will turn out. Approximately 1,200 voters of the 27,000 residents registered to vote defeated the budget last month.

After the May defeat of the budget, and after school and town officials began to release worst-case scenario spending plans, residents took to social media decrying the possible cuts.

While many of those objecting to the new budget call for its defeat again, there are a number of residents that would like to see the new version put into place and eliminate some of the more dire cuts bandied about by school and town officials.

On the town side, council members are talking about eliminating the recreation department, ending some trash pickups, and reducing the town workforce by about 14.5 positions.

Those cuts would come with their own associated costs to the town, Warzycha said, which includes unemployment insurance for those whose positions have been eliminated.

On the school side, officials issued dire warnings of possibly 400 people, including teachers, losing their jobs, as well as the elimination of most electives, and extra-curricular activities, including after-school sports.

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The biggest change would be making the high school double time, a move that students and their parents said they want to avoid.

When it comes to making cuts to the town and schools’ operating budgets, Warzycha said, “There is little wiggle room.”

Coventry’s Budget: ‘Little Wiggle Room’

On the town level, Warzycha said between 85 and 90 percent of the costs to operate are hands-off. These are costs associated with contractual obligations to the various unions, paying off debit, and state requirements.

For the school those numbers are even greater, Warzycha added.

So if costs are going to be cut, they have to come from sections of the budget that are not “set in stone,” such as eliminating jobs, and activities that for the most part affect the children of the community.

“While we can’t come out and say, ‘support the budget’,” Warzycha said, “we can do everything that we can to encourage people to participate in the process, to promote more public engagement.”

For voting hours, and polling place locations, go to the town website.