2019 budget reflects modest increase

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 9:30am

Block Island taxpayers will be considering a newly crafted municipal budget of $14,477,968 for 2019, reflecting a 3.2 percent increase over this year’s appropriation. The budget, which was presented to the Town Council at a work session on Wednesday, March 7, by Town Manager Ed Roberge, will be discussed and possibly amended during a series of public hearings scheduled over the next several weeks. 

In his letter forwarding the budget to the Town Council, Roberge said the 2019 budget “builds on the town’s strong fiscal management record, implements thoughtful reforms that achieve savings and modernizes processes, and invests in targeted initiatives to achieve a thriving, healthy, and innovative community.” The current fiscal year’s budget is $14,032,776.

In his summary to the Council, Roberge said the “proposed budget focuses on improving the quality of life; achievable through a commitment to environmental stewardship, strengthening public safety, and improved town services and public infrastructure.” 

In addressing public safety issues, Roberge outlined that the new budget: 

Expands funding levels for Fire/Rescue, including payroll, vehicle and equipment testing, and radio equipment costs;

Carries forward funding for upgrades to Rescue 2 and significant partial funding to replace the engine;

Expands seasonal police staffing into May and October to match extended shoulder season activity;

Maintains quality of life programs by police targeting traffic safety and noise mitigation;

Expands mooring replacements in New Harbor;

Maintains the dinghy dock in New Harbor.

The budget also includes funding for various public infrastructure projects, including replacement of lights, navigation buoys; the water line and generator serving the Coast Guard Station; and the Recreation Department vehicle. The budget includes funding for maintenance work on the Motor Pool Building at the Coast Guard Station; safety improvements to the parking and pathway areas at the Medical Center, and upgrades to the Block Island School and Island Free Library.

The budget also acknowledges two major financial investments, one ongoing and one upcoming: monies for interest on the $1.8 million purchase of two-thirds stock of the Block Island Power Company, and the installation of an island-wide hi-speed internet network. 

The amount of accrued interest for the BIPCO bond in 2019 will be $35,040. 

For the installation of the smaller anchor network, Town Finance Director Amy Land said that even though the cost of that smaller project was guessed at something like $150,000, that figure ended up being completely unrealistic. Next year, the town has proposed allocating $100,000 for consulting fees, and while some of the cost of the smaller network may be covered by monies provided by the Library, the School, and the Medical Center, the remaining costs may be put to town taxpayers on a warrant that will be voted on at the Financial Town Meeting in May.

“Times are changing,” Roberge said to the Council at the budget presentation on Wednesday, March 7. “It’s important to have a well-positioned and well-structured organization. The budget is a common sense approach to how we best balance our needs. It’s a balanced effort.”

The Councilors, who hadn’t had very much time to review the proposal, said that they would take the coming days to review it more closely. There will also be a series of public hearings on the budget over the next several weeks, at which department heads will answer questions about whether the budget addressed their individual concerns.

“I’ll save my comments for the department by department” meetings, said Councilor Chris Willi.

But Willi also took a moment to address the unusually large crowd that had gathered at Town Hall, most of whom were present to support a measure being considered by the Town to support an island resident, Meriton Gurguri, who was being detained in a Massachusetts jail after being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials almost two weeks ago.

“I’m sure all these people are here for the budget,” Willi said to some laughter, “But make an effort to look through the budget. It’s much easier (to read) than it used to be. This is my pitch to you all to participate.”

“Bring those questions to the meetings,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste.