Financial Town Meeting is Monday, May 6

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 8:30am

There will be no big-ticket items on the docket for voters to ponder over at this year’s Financial Town Meeting. The last time that happened was in 2016, when there were no additional borrowing authorizations on the warrant. Last year voters approved the $2 million West Beach stabilization project, $1.5 million Thomas Property project, and $550,000 for the CAI network broadband project. 

For fiscal year 2020, the town is requesting $1 million in borrowing authorization to finance potential road and bridge improvements. So that, as well as some capital projects, and a minor increase to the operating and capital budget are what will be voted on at this year’s FTM on Monday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Block Island School. Those assembled, along with the New Shoreham Town Council, Town Manager and the Finance Director, will cast their votes. The Town Council unanimously adopted the warrant for the FTM on April 24.

The town’s registered voters will vote on a $14,966,003 fiscal year 2020 annual operating and capital budget, which represents a $466,928 increase, or 3 percent, over the FY 2019 budget.

The fiscal year 2020 budget overview states that the Town Council outlined budget objectives in an effort aimed at identifying strategic themes and goals for the community. Priorities noted are: to provide for a safe and livable community; maintain responsible community planning for the future; focus on smart and sustainable growth; rely on fiscal responsibility and promote community service excellence; and strengthen community resiliency.

The 2020 budget includes a 1.4 percent increase in the tax levy, or $379,388, which totals four percent of the budget, the level that it’s capped at by the state of Rhode Island. The tax levy total budget is $10,713,284.

This year’s budget process was highlighted by the Town Council’s approval of the full funding requests of three organizations under community support: $300,000 for the Block Island Medical Center, $180,400 for the Block Island Volunteer Fire Department, and $23,100 for the Senior Advisory Committee. The total budget for community support, which includes the school, is $5,754,711, a $268,760 increase, or five percent over 2019.

The town’s capital improvements program totals $377,000, which is a 33 percent decrease from the 2019 budget. The program includes the following: $100,000 for replacement and expansion of the Coast Guard Station dock; $100,000 for partial and continued funding for the Block Island School’s building improvements (RIDE funding may be available to offset the cost); $40,000 for the replacement of the Island Free Library’s windows; $30,000 for the New Harbor Visions Plan; $27,000 for replacement of the Police Department’s all-terrain vehicle; and $25,000 for Heinz Field drainage improvements.

The 2020 debt service of $2,374,842 is an increase of $177,476 over 2019.

The 2020 debt service is impacted by bonds for the work done on the West Beach stabilization project ($160,675). The total debt service represents 16 percent of the budget.

Borrowing authorization

The warrant will ask registered voters to authorize the Town Treasurer to issue a bond, if needed, in an amount not to exceed $1,000,000 to finance the repair, replacement, and/or improvement of the town’s roads and bridges.

“Having this authorization in hand will allow the town to apply for project specific funding at a below market interest rate through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank Road and Bridge program,” Finance Director Amy Land told The Times. “The town has previously used this financing approach for improvements to Weldon’s Way and Old Town Road under authorization granted at the 2014 FTM. The town must have the borrowing authorization in place before applying for project approval. It also provides additional flexibility for the town to piggyback smaller projects when and if a road improvement contractor is already on island and take advantage of reduced mobilization costs.”

The warrant questions related to water and sewer would authorize the Town Treasurer to borrow funds, if needed, to maintain water and sewer operations while the Sewer Commission and Water Commission await the collection of user fees. The amount of the borrowing authorization is limited to 80 percent of the total expected annual revenue due; in the case of sewer, no more than $400,000, in the case of water, no more than $200,000. 

This authorization appears annually on the FTM warrant and has not been utilized in recent years since cash reserves have been sufficient to cover operating costs.

Checking in at FTM

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said that, “The Canvassers will be checking people in with poll pads at Financial Town Meeting. They are provided by the Rhode Island Board of Elections. They are programmed with the New Shoreham voters list and keep a running tally of voters. It’s less paper and quicker for the canvassers. A drivers license will make the process even faster because the Canvassers can scan the license instead of typing the voter’s name.”