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Warwick City Council OKs $361M FY25 Budget

[CREDIT: City of Warwick] The Warwick City Council passed a $236,550,000 budget May 25, increasing Mayor Picozzi's proposed 1.48 percent tax increase to 1.97 percent.

[CREDIT: City of Warwick] The Warwick City Council passed a $236,550,000 budget May 25, increasing Mayor Picozzi's proposed 1.48 percent tax increase to 1.97 percent.
[CREDIT: City of Warwick] The Warwick City Council passed a $236,550,000 budget May 25, increasing Mayor Picozzi’s proposed 1.48 percent tax increase to 1.97 percent.
WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council approved a $361.2 million FY25 budget 6-3 May 23, adding $1,050,000  to Mayor Frank Picozzi’s proposed budget, partly to avoid relying on projected traffic camera ticket revenue.

The change, along with a collection of other amendments, resulted in a .49 percent extra added to Picozzi’s planned 1.48 percent tax increase, making the new tax increase 1.97 percent. Overall, spending increased 8 percent over last year’s $353.2 million FY25 budget, according to Finance Director Peder Schaefer.

As a result, the city’s new tax rates are:

  • Class 1:  $14.47 per thousand assessed value.
  • Class II: $25.32 per thousand assessed value.
  • Class III: unchanged at  $37.46 per $1,000 assessed value.

Projected traffic camera ticket revenue raises Councilor’s concern

At issue was a projected $1.3 million in projected revenue from traffic camera tickets, which Picozzi acknowledged at the start of the May 23 meeting, streamed to the Council’s YouTube page.

“I’ve gotten some feedback that some members of the Council were either concerned or unhappy that I included projected $1.3 million in revenue from the possibility of traffic cameras into the budget,” said Mayor Frank Picozzi. He apologized that including the projection appeared presumptuous or stepped on toes.

“It certainly wasn’t my intention. I apologize for that,” Picozzi said. He said that projecting revenue is routine, as with previous budgets as the city anticipated selling school land, involving much greater amounts. He also noted that without that projected revenue, the city would need to cut it out of the budget or increase taxes. However, he said, he is confident that the projected revenue will materialize without requiring those actions.

McAllister amendment removing traffic camera revenue passes:

City Council President Steve McAllister made the first amendment to the budget plan, removing the amount from the anticipated revenue, among other items:

  • Reduce municipal court fines from traffic cameras line item by $1.3 million, increasing the tax levy by that amount.
  • Increase municipal court salary to add a judge by $15,000
  • Increase police night program, which increases patrols for problem neighborhoods, by $45,000.
  • Increase public works highway general services line item by $90,000, allowing $10,000 in each ward for small, pressing projects.
  • Increase public works field maintenance by $250,000, paying for projects like track maintenance and fields at Warwick Schools.

McAllister said that while he respects Picozzi’s position on the traffic camera revenue, he said he feels there remains some additional time to ensure that revenue will pan out, with vendors, placement and number of cameras, and other details yet to be determined.

Councilman Vincent Gebhart agreed with McAllister’s caution on the traffic camera fine revenue, noting the city hasn’t decided to employ a traffic camera system for ticketing. “We certainly don’t want to give the perception to the public or amongst ourselves that this is a foregone conclusion. There’s some gravity to this decision and we want to make the decision with both eyes open and not feel like we’re backed into a corner,” Gebhart said.

Councilman Ed Ladouceur agreed as well, referencing his comments opposing the traffic camera ticket revenue in the budget, when doing that has yet to be proposed to the council, let alone approved by the council.

“I found it particularly concerning for the rationale of the cameras, as a revenue generator, as opposed to a safety issue. As opposed to protecting the kids at the schools, as opposed to keeping people safer from flying down the roads at 20, 30 miles an hour over the speed limit. I know that wasn’t the intent, but that’s the perception that came across to me and some of the folks that reached out to me,” Ladouceur said.

“We don’t want to have this in the budget before the substantive item comes before us,” Councilman Jeremy Rix agreed.

Councilman Timothy Howe noted the judge McAllister wanted to add would also be part of a projection for the needs of the traffic camera tickets. Councilman Anthony Sinapi also supported putting the $1.3 million into the budget, but said he would otherwise vote for the changes, with the intent to add the traffic ticket revenue back, and doubled.

“This was never meant to be a revenue generator. It’s a side benefit of them,” Picozzi said of the traffic cameras.

He also noted that the manpower for the police night program doesn’t exist, so added funding to that budget wouldn’t be used. Picozzi also noted the extra funding for the fields wouldn’t work if the schools decided to re-allocate the funds, since they legally don’t need to abide by city rules on their spending regardless of the source.

The package of changes passed, with Howe voting against.

Sinapi amendment fails

Sinapi proposed an amendment to double the projected traffic camera revenue to $2.6 million to the $300,000 fine revenue line item, raising it to $2.9 million and to return the tax levy to it’s orginal 1.5 percent increase. He said the Mayor’s projection was conservative, given the numbers reported from similar systems in the state. He said even doubling the projection is likely still conservative, since one community included demographics that dragged down the average. Sinapi said using the projection to avoid increasing the tax levy would provide the taxpayer an immediate and tangible benefit that would not be possible if the revenue materializes as a surplus.

Picozzi said he supported  Sinapi’s amendment, asking that it return the revenue projection to the original $1.3 million. Warwick City Solicitor Bill Walsh pointed out that the projected revenue can’t be increased without the Mayor and Finance Director’s agreement that it will materialize, a point that is up to the Council to decide. Sinapi then amended his amendment to return the estimate to the original $1.3 million.

The Council voted down the amendment, with  McAllister, Councilman William Foley, Councilman Ed Ladouceur, Rix, and Councilwoman Donna Travis voting no.

Rix amendment passes

Rix’s amendment to move $250,000 from firefighter overtime into the DPW Field Maintenance and Materials Line item for the school track passed with Foley, Councilman Vinny Gephart, Rix, Ladouceur, Sinapi and Travis voting yes.

Rix’s next amendments, aimed at bolstering the fund balance against future challenges, were not successful.

First, Rix proposed increasing the tax collection estimate from 99.2 percent to 99.5 percent, adding $700,000 to estimated revenue, to be added to the asphalt budget to $780,000.  Rix said it’s possible, given past performance, to realize that collection rate, and, he said, he worries future costs and pressure will limit future road maintenance. Raising the budget by that amount would set a higher baseline into the future, he reasoned. The amendment failed.

Rix also proposed closing the structural deficit by further increasing the tax rate by 1.18 percent. He said his concern about looming budget pressures also informed this amendment.

“The next several years I anticipate are going to be difficult,” Rix said, and he hopes to blunt significant pain in the long term with a smaller pain now.  But Walsh pointed out the increase would put the city over the maximum 4 percent increase cap. Picozzi noted the city’s own math was similar. The amendment also failed, with only Rix voting for it.

Foley amendment passes

Foley made an amendment to increase the fund balance draw down by $1.3 million to offset the removal of the amount from anticipated traffic camera revenue. Rix and Ladouceur objected to the move, as it still relied on anticipated revenue not yet established in the budget.

The amendment passed with Mcallister, Foley, Howe, Councilman James McElroy, and Sinapi voting for it.

Gebhart amendment passes

Gebhart made an amendment to only draw down the fund balance by $650,000, noting the account will be needed in coming years as the school bonds and other expenses come due. Foley argued the idea would not allow the city to give the money back to taxpayers if the money wasn’t needed. Rix noted Gebhart’s idea would limit drawing on the fund balance, allaying his concern there somewhat.

Picozzi urged councilors to avoid increasing taxes at all this year. He said many people in Wawick were struggling, some living in Oakland Beach and Conimicut, having trouble paying for basic expenses such as bread and health care.

“Every penny counts to them. I want to put no further burden on them than we don’t have to,” Picozzi said,  “You want to raise taxes now in anticipation of a situation that may happen three, four, five years from now. My mission here is to put the least burden on the taxpayers who are struggling right now. No more burden,” Picozzi said.

Gebhart’s amendment passed with McAllister,  Gephart, Ladouceur, Rix and Travis voting for it.

Sinapi amendment survives challenge, fails vote

Sinapi prefaced his next amendment by pointing out his intent to vote against the budget if it doesn’t take into account the projected camera ticket revenue, arguing the entire budget is predicated on such projections. He also reminded them his understanding that the Mayor would likely veto the budget under those conditions.

Therefore, he said, he was altering his earlier amendment to increase the fund balance drawdown by $1.3 million and $1. “That way, we have a veto-proof majority,” he said. “To summarize, we can acknowledge reasonably projected revenue that is incredibly conservative by all accounts, or, we can ignore reasonably projected revenue, which is mind-boggling because of all the other projections in the budget that we are acknowledging, some of which have no basis other than just pure speculation, and risk a veto and increase taxes more than necessary, just because,” Sinapi said.

McAllister mentioned his worry that that amendment violated the charter, given that the projected revenue validity is up to the Council to decide, when the point had yet to be considered by the Council. Sinapi insisted on an official ruling from McAllister, who ruled it did violate the charter. Sinapi appealed the ruling to the full Council.

Sinapi’s appeal succeeded with only McAllister, Ladouceur, Rix and Travis sustaining McAllister’s ruling, allowing Sinapi’s amendment to proceed to a vote.

McAllister,  Gebhart, Ladouceur, Rix, and Travis voted against the amendment, defeating it.

With no further amendments, the successful changes had added  $1,000,050 to the tax levy, reported Finance Director Peder Schaefer. The result would be a 7 cent increase per $1,000 value to the residential and 12 cent increase per $1,000 value to the commercial rates.

The change also resulted in a 1.97 percent increase to the budget instead of 1.48 percent, Schaefer said.

Two votes to approve FY25 Budget

Councilman Foley moved favorable action on the budget, and the Council initially voted to approve it unanimously. However, Sinapi and Ladoucer moved to reconsider, stating they were not aware they were voting on the full budget. A second vote was held, and this time the budget passed again, with Sinapi, Ladouceur and Travis voting against. Warwick-FY25-budget-proposed-general-fund

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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