“There is no possible layoff, no layoffs whatsoever on the horizon, and the chief himself did come to the meeting a little later, and we were able to confirm that in person with him.”
WARWICK, R.I. – The Warwick City Council approved a $305 million budget for FY18 Saturday morning at City Hall after 28 amendments, including cutting $483,055 for firefighter personnel and $360,000 in overtime, leaving seven possible firefighter layoffs in doubt, with no tax increase.
The lack of a tax increase for residents is a first in the past 17 years, said Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur.
“…we have created a zero tax increase for the first time, I believe, in 17 years,” Councilman Ladouceur said. “This year is the year about the taxpayer, and that’s what we did. We’ve accomplished something here that we haven’t accomplished in years.”
Under the proposed budget, which now heads to Mayor Scott Avedisian for approval or veto, taxes will remain at the following FY17 rates: $20.24 for the residential/property tax; $30.36, commercial; $40.48, tangible; and $34.60 for the automobile tax.
The City Council voted unanimously, 9-0, to keep the current tax rates and approve the $305 million budget after a nearly four and half hour meeting Saturday morning at City Hall. The meeting was a continuation from hearings held last week.
The current budget reflects approximately 28 amendments by the council, including removing personnel funds for seven Warwick firefighters and increasing the city’s projected tax revenue.
Possible Firefighter Layoffs
Wearing matching black T-shirts emblazoned with their union name, approximately 59 members of Firefighters Local Union 2748 attended Saturday’s budget meeting inside City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Fire Chief James McLaughlin – who declined to comment on his department’s budget cuts and potential layoffs – also attended for a brief time.
The Council voted unanimously to remove $483,055 from the fire department’s budget, which includes $361,382 in salaries for seven firefighters and $121,673 for an assistant fire chief.
Council members expressed concern over whether the reductions would result in more overtime costs.
“I have a concern with this between the cost of laying off these firefighters and the increase cost of overtime, this might end up costing the city more,” said Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix.
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla disagreed. “This is the argument. It costs us more to have firefighters and run up the overtime, so therefore we should hire more firefighters to reduce costs of overtime,” he said. “We are trying to kick the can down the road for today and future generations.”
Council members also questioned whether the reduction in personnel costs were for currently hired firefighters or potential future hires.
“I don’t have the numbers in front of me. I know we brought in extra positions,” said David Picozzi, interim director of Public Works. “Seven current firefighters will likely have to be laid off.”
However, council members disagreed with Picozzi. “It’s not current firefighters,” said Ward 7 Councilman Stephen P. McAllister. “We’re not laying off firefighters.”
“It’ll be up to the fire chief,” said Councilman Ladouceur during a recess. “I don’t run the fire department.”
The Warwick Fire Department currently staffs 220 firefighters, according to Council President Joseph J. Solomon (Ward 4). The department was budgeted to raise the number to 228, including the fire chief, Council President Solomon said.
Increase to Tax Revenue
The City Council also voted to raise the projected tax revenue from 98.5 percent to 99 percent after a lengthy discussion between council members and Finance Director Ernest M. Zmyslinski. The raise increases the projected tax revenue to $1.2 million.
Council Solicitor John J. Harrington and Zmyslinski both spoke out against the increase.
“Can I recommend raising the collection rate to 99 percent? My answer is no,” said Zmyslinski. “I think that’s a high collection rate for property taxes to generate. That’s something I would not recommend or support.”
“The reason I’m hesitating, under the charter, if that’s considered miscellaneous revenue, revenue can’t be added to the budget without a certification from the finance director,” Harrington said, who read the following from the town charter.
“5-18. – Restrictions: Miscellaneous revenues. No miscellaneous revenue from any source shall be included in an anticipated revenue in the budget in an amount in excess of the average of the amount actually realized in cash from the same source in the next preceding fiscal year, and that actually realized in the first ten months of the current fiscal year plus that to be received in the remaining two months of the year estimated as accurately as may be, unless the mayor and the director of finance shall determine that the facts clearly warrant the expectation that such excess amount will actually be realized in cash during the fiscal year and shall certify such determination in writing to the council.”
“The council can look at historical data and adjust to what they see as a reasonable collection. What John just read, you can’t go over what you did in a previous year and we’re not…I think it’s reasonable from what you’ve seen in previous years,” Councilman Merolla said.
The amendment to raise the projected tax revenue to 99 percent passed unanimously.
Additional Budget Amendments:
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to amend Line Items 75, 158, 159, 160, 162, and 163, resulting in a total reduction of $548,693. The changes are “a result of the savings to the cost of health care from moving to W.B. (West Bay Community Health),” said Ladouceur. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to amend Line Item 47-380 due to a clerical error. Amendment changes amount from $25,000 to $2,500. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to remove $3 million from Line Item 89-000 (School Appropriation) to a drawdown account “in anticipation of the settlement for the contract for the school department,” he said. “The money will go back into the drawdown fund to, I believe, fund the school contract upon settlement between the administration and the schools …” Council President Solomon said. “It’s going to be placed into the drawdown account from where it came out of.” Amendment passed 9-0. The council later voted 9-0 to add $1,295,271 to the enterprise fund (Line Item 03-690).
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to reduce Line Item 30-301 (Education Reimbursement under the police department budget) by $10,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to eliminate Line Item 79-799 (Misc. Capital Expenditures), reducing the budget by $350,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to reduce Line Item 43-101 by $15,000, removing the salary increase for the Warwick Public Library director. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to reduce Line Item 48-101 by $18,066, removing funds for a full-time transportation dispatcher. This position is currently part-time. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to reduce Line Item 30-220 (fuel costs for police department) by $75,000. “The police department early on this year transferred $25,000 out of their fuel budget, and the trends of what they’re using doesn’t suggest they’ll be expending $25,000 this year,” Ladouceur said. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to reduce Line Item 25 101 (removing a proposed raise for the information system administration) by $15,000, and a reduction of $5,069 (a raise for the assistant analyst) and $4,000 (desktop support analyst), totaling a reduction of $19,069. Amendment passed 8-1 with Councilman Rix opposed.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 25-360 (professional services) by $5,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to remove $50,000 from Line “Overtime firefighters 1.” Amendment passed 9-0.
- Councilman Ladouceur motioned to remove $300,000 from “Overtime firefighters 2.” Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to remove $10,000 from Line Item 35-129 (overtime dispatch). Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to remove $15,000 from Line Item 35-367 (rescue services). Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 35-224 (electrical costs) by $15,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 35-220 (gas costs) by $50,000. Reduction later changed to $10,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 62-101 by $5,205. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 63-224 (electricity costs) by $10,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 63-292 (road salt for winter storms) by $10,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 65-220 (gas costs) by $100,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 36-220 (fuel budget) by $1,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 48 221 (gas costs) by $2,000. Amendment passed 9-0.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 40-339 (instructional services) by $30,000. Amendment passed 8-1 with Councilman Rix opposed.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 40-119 (salary seasonal, lifeguards) by $65,000. Amendment passed 7-2 with Councilman Rix and Councilwoman Donna M. Travis (Ward 6) opposed.
- Councilman Rix motions to add $3,000 Line Item to replace a gate on Sumner Avenue. “I’ve been trying to get this project done for many, many years,” Councilman Rix said. Motion failed 6-2 with Rix and Gallucci (Ward 8) in favor and Councilman Merolla abstained. After the hearing, Rix said should have said he and his predecessors on the Council had been attempting to get the gate fixed for several years.
- Motion to reduce Line Item 46-101 by $4,000 (raise for Senior Center program manager). Amendment passed 9-0. Second motion to reduce Line Item 46-101 by $4,000 (raise for director of Senior Services). Second amendment passed 8-1 with Councilman McAllister abstained.
- Councilman Rix motioned to reserve $10,000 for a Warwick sports team, who, in the future, would compete at the state or national level. The funds would be reserved for travel expenses. Motion failed 6-2 with Councilman Rix in favor, and Councilman Merolla and Councilwoman Travis abstained.