Three groups get their funding
First Warden Ken Lacoste’s decision to “be a little more aggressive” led the Town Council to fully fund the budget requests of three town groups.
The three entities that will receive their full funding requests are the Medical Center ($300,000), Block Island Volunteer Fire Department ($180,400), and the Senior Advisory Committee ($23,100). The Medical Center’s budget will increase $40,000; the Fire Department’s budget will increase $30,400, and the Senior Advisory Committee’s budget will increase $3,000, for a total collective increase of $73,400.
The town council found $54,000 in the budget by moving some money around to fund the requests. Finance Director Amy Land told The Times that funding the requests through the tax levy increases the 2020 budget by $29,323.
With the added funding, the tax levy increased from 3.49 percent to 3.69 percent during the budget process. The tax levy increase is capped at four percent. The fiscal year 2020 budget was $14,936,680, but is now $14,966,003, an increase of $466,928 over the previous year’s budget.
During the council’s meeting on Monday, Lacoste enlisted the aid of Town Manager Ed Roberge in trying to find ways to shift money around in the budget to accommodate the funding increases, while keeping the budget under the four percent tax levy cap. Roberge said he wanted the 3.49 percent tax increase to remain unchanged.
After some deliberations, Roberge found the $54,000 to address the requests.
He found $50,000 in savings by splitting the $150,000 Coast Guard dock project into two phases: $100,000 would be budgeted in 2020, and $50,000 in 2021. He also added $10,000 in revenue due to projections for building permit fees. On the expenditure side, he said that $6,000 in wages, benefits and taxes would be budgeted for the Island Free Library’s staff due to the union negotiations.
Second Warden André Boudreau seemed to agree with Lacoste in funding the requests, while Councilor Sven Risom had his eye on the tax levy cap. Councilors Martha Ball and Chris Willi did not approve of fully funding the Medical Center’s request.
Risom made the motion to fund the Medical Center at $300,000, with a $40,000 increase for the addition of a physician’s assistant. Boudreau seconded the motion, and Ball and Willi dissented for a three to two vote. Ball said she would have funded a budget increase of $30,000 for the Medical Center, while Willi noted prior to the vote that he would have funded a budget increase of $21,000.
After the meeting, Willi told The Times that he “dissented because it raised the tax levy higher. My intent was to stay at Ed’s budget recommendation, which was an increase of 3.49 percent. $54,000 was available to use. I think I said $30,000 for the Fire Department, $21,000 for the Medical Center, and $3,000 for Senior Advisory Committee. That equals $54,000.”
“I didn’t agree with raising the impact to 3.69 percent,” noted Willi, “which is what happened during the meeting. Basically divvying up the $54,000 available was my desire, even if it was a 50/50 split with the Fire Department and the Medical Center.”
Visitor’s Center request
Cindy Lasser, the Chamber of Commerce’s new Executive Director, asked why the council did not consider the Chamber’s request of $27,700 to fund three seasonal staff positions at the Visitor’s Center. The Chamber is a private, non-profit organization funded by its dues-paying members.
Lacoste told her that the Chamber’s request had been “weighed against the other requests that had been made, and I suggested that we help out by not collecting the rent from the Chamber for the year.” He added that, “That would reduce the town’s revenue.”
“The crux of the question is: weighing the benefit of the Chamber to the community in general, versus the benefit of the Chamber to the Chamber members,” said Lacoste. “Personally I would like to do something in terms of supporting the Chamber as a private entity at Old Harbor. It’s a hybrid. It’s a private entity that serves a public need.”
Ball reiterated what she said at a previous budget hearing; that the Tourism Council should pitch in to fund the Visitor’s Center. She asked Lasser if the Chamber had met with the Tourism Council to discuss their participation in funding the facility. “Where are you with that?”
Lasser said the Tourism Council “knows that I will be approaching them” about funding the facility. “I have paperwork in hand to submit a request.”
“I’m with Martha” on this issue, said Risom. “I think it falls squarely as a bull’s-eye on Tourism. My word at the previous meeting was conundrum.” He noted that he hopes the problem will be solved through a contribution from the Tourism Council.
Julie Fuller, a member of the Tourism Council, said the Tourism Council would welcome a budget request from the Chamber. “I know as a business operator that the tourists bring a lot of tax dollars to our island that comes to the Tourism Council and to the town.” Fuller said she believes there’s a way for everyone to work together to fund the Visitor’s Center.
In other news, resident Chris Warfel asked the council if it could launch an inquiry into mopeds that are stored in non-permitted buildings on Water Street where, he said, they create a “potential hazard.” Warfel said the mopeds’ mirrors cause a distracting, blinding reflection to drivers in the Old Harbor district.
Warfel sent a letter on the subject to Gov. Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominic Ruggerio, the Office of the Rhode Island Fire Marshal, and New Shoreham officials.