Town budget moves on to public hearing phase
Between Town Council work sessions on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the Finance Department found some savings, which the Council took advantage of by increasing funding for two organizations in the Community Support category: Block Island Health Services, which operates the Medical Center, and the BI Volunteer Fire Department.
At the Monday, March 29 meeting, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford read from a memo by Finance Director Amy Land updating previous figures. The Block Island Chamber of Commerce joined the School, BI Health Services, and the Fire Department on the call in hopes of receiving additional funding.
“Health insurance premiums are still being finalized and will be available the second week in April,” said Crawford. “Based on updated guidance provided by the town’s carrier, any health and dental cost increases for 2022 have been eliminated, resulting in savings of $27,386 from the initial budget.”
Referring to discussions at the councilors’ March 24 work session, Crawford continued: “I know you folks had talked extensively about community service, and it looks like you do have $27,386 that you can reallocate to community service.”
“I know you folks had talked extensively about community service, and it looks like you do have $27,386 that you can reallocate to community service,” said Crawford.
Crawford also stated the council had received a letter from Block Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lars Trodson, seeking funding beyond the $10,000 in the draft budget for the Visitors Center.
“We are looking for some help with the funding of the four tourism ambassadors that work out of this office this summer. In the past we looked at the years 2017, 2018, and 2019, and the salaries and the payroll tax evened out at $25,500,” said Trodson. “Our first stop was at the Tourism Council and they funded half of that. While the Chamber is rebuilding itself financially, we are still building to get our finances in a strong steady position. This year we are looking for the town to fund $10,000 of the remaining amount that needs to be funded towards those salaries, and we also asked for some rent relief on the building, which would be $10,000 for 2021 and 2022.”
The council held off on making a funding decision for the Visitors Center.
First Warden André Boudreau shared his thoughts as to where the insurance savings should go.
“I’m thinking we split the $27,000 between fire and medical center. How does everyone feel?” said Boudreau.
Councilor Keith Stover agreed with Boudreau’s two priorities.
“The medical center and fire and rescue deserve more. I think that’s the fair way to do it,” said Stover.
Stover made a motion to give an additional $13,500 to the Medical Center and $13,500 to the Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. The motion was seconded by Second Warden Sven Risom, and passed 3-2.
Boudreau then made a motion to send a letter to the Tourism Council requesting they fully fund the request from Trodson for funding the visitor ambassadors as outlined in the director’s letter. The motion was seconded by Risom and passed unanimously.
Seeking more Federal education funds
Also on the agenda was a letter of support drafted by Supt. Convery regarding federal funding for the Block Island School, specifically ESSER II. (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds and the ESSER III (the American Recovery Act) funds.
“We are the only district in Rhode Island who is not receiving funding for ESSER II or ESSER III,” added Convery.
Convery had previously written to Congressman Jim Langevin asking for help. His letter reads, in part:
“We were fortunate to receive ESSER I funding ($12,538) and used that to help pay for additional custodians for night spraying and a part-time nurse to manage student attestation forms and checkups with families along with additional cleaning supplies and masks. Obviously, we spent much more than the funds received. We were planning on recovering some expended costs with additional funding from ESSER II and also additional funding from the American Recovery Act (ESSER III).”
“However, we were recently informed that Block Island is no longer eligible to receive any additional funding due to the allocation formula being used. There are districts just beginning to return students to the classroom who are receiving millions of dollars. Meanwhile, we have been able to open, and stay open, incurring excessive additional expenses, and we will receive no additional funds.”
Boudreau made a motion to send a letter to Rep. Jim Langevin, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Sen. Jack Reed in support of the letters dated March 22, 2021 by Convery with regards to ESSER funding and the American Recovery Act, and to send a courtesy copy to Sen. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Blake Filippi. The motion was seconded by Councilor Martha Ball, and passed unanimously.
With the work sessions now complete, the staff will update the budget based on the Council’s changes. The Council will hold public hearings on the entire revised budget at virtual meetings on Monday, April 5 and Wednesday, April 7. Both meetings will begin at 7:00 p.m.