COVENTRY, R.I. — Nearly 20 percent of Coventry’s 27,000 registered voters cast ballots to approve the $108 million 2020 fiscal year budget in the June 13 do-over.
The nearly 20 percent was a far cry from the about 8 percent of the electorate that turned out and defeated the original spending plan last month.
A day-long rain, turning heavy at times, failed to deter the more than 6,400 residents who came out for the election, which saw the proposed $108 million budget approved 3,660 to 2,771.
Interim Town Manager Edward Warzycha said he was heartened by the turnout, and to see that many town residents take part in the vote. “Whether they voted for or against the budget it was good to see so many come out,” he said the day following the election.
Property owners will see a 3.47 increase in their tax rate, or about a $140 increase over last year’s bill.
The election drew young and old, empty nesters, whose children have moved out, young parents with children still in the school system, and recent Coventry High School graduates.
Eighteen-year old Hannah Lanoue, who graduated last week, said she was disappointed by all the negative comments made by residents on various social media pages, because “if it weren’t for the teachers I would not be here today.”
Lanoue, who took music and drama classes said she came out to cast a “yes” vote because it “is important to save the budget and the teachers’ jobs.”
School officials had said if the budget was to fail a second time, about 400 teachers from across the district would be laid off, and while numerous teachers received “pink slips,” earlier in the week, most if not all would be rescinded with the positive vote.
Tara Correia, an English teacher at the high school, and several fellow teachers stood huddled under umbrellas outside the Westwood Estates polling place-carrying signs urging voters to approve the budget.\
Her and her fellow teachers, who declined to give their names, said the lay-off notices are something the school district has done in the past, “but not to this extent.” She said many of the teachers in the district are also residents of the district and they too pay property taxes and know the affect it would have on the community.
Warren Stephenson, a Coventry senior citizen said he came out to vote no on the budget, as he had done in last month’s election saying he believes the district is too “top heavy,” when it comes to the district’s administration.
Stephenson, who served on the town’s school committee in the past, said there are “just too many administrators.”
“Every year, we say there are too many administrators, but nothing gets done,” Stephenson added.
Another senior citizen, who asked that her name not be used because of the negativity in the community, said the biggest concern for seniors is “the continuing cost increases. We live on a fixed income, and that doesn’t increase each year. We need to see cuts.”
“But we need to support the teachers, they are helping us prepare for the future,” Lanoue said.
“The community needs to stay away from the hate,” she said.
And for Warzycha, it’s time to get ready for the next budget. He said committees are being formed to begin looking at the budget, especially the funding portion of the spending plan.
The town councils’ hands are tied in most areas of the budget, particularly those where contracts with employees are concerned. Salaries, pensions, healthcare, are all items that can only be altered when contract negotiations begin, after the fact there is nothing that can be done.
“We’re starting from the ground up,” Warzycha said.
“But one of the things we are looking at is the fees the town charges to see if more revenue can be generated,” he said.
“We want to see what we can do better. We’re all taxpayers too.”