Town Council mulls 5.9 percent tax increase

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 5:30pm

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford presented a hopeful and positive attitude when presenting the proposed fiscal year 2022 municipal budget for the Town of New Shoreham to the Town Council at its meeting on March 17. It was the first budget work session and focused on department-level budgets and the eight-year capital plan.

Crawford said: “As we wrap-up fiscal 2021, we see a hopeful end to the pandemic and the start of a new chapter of what we all hope is back to ‘normal.’ The Fiscal Year 2022 budget offers a new chapter and positive changes to the Town of New Shoreham.”

“The proposed operating budget is $16,560,516, a $1,244,306 increase and an 8.1 percent increase from last year. The proposed tax levy increase is 5.9 percent. Both reflect a town that is growing very fast in many challenging directions simultaneously. Also, the originally proposed budget for fiscal 2021 included a 5 percent budget increase, and was reduced to 2.3 percent due to the pandemic. A number of items included in the budget were deferred and presented in the fiscal 2022 budget.”

By state law, the tax levy increase is limited to four percent, so the 5.9 percent increase must be approved by the state, as well as four-fifths of the Town Council and a majority of the voters present at the annual Financial Town Meeting. Crawford said that because the items that caused the above-four-percent increase were related to debt service, the approval was an administrative one at the state level.

Crawford highlighted key line items in her budget memo to the council, including the town having its first director of public works; the near-completion of the Broadband Project; the need to expand technology infrastructure and systems, with an emphasis on “providing funding specifically to the police department to streamline reporting and meet data management requirements”; and the broadcasting of council, boards and other committee meetings to provide increased community participation.

“This budget will begin a transformational process in managing and planning the island’s growth in the future. We will continue to meet the current infrastructure needs of the island while providing long-overdue initiatives such as broadband, increased government transparency, and new town-wide technologies that will allow us to plan resources and govern more cost-efficiently,” said Crawford.

Town Finance Director Amy Land said: “When you talk about what the significant drivers are for the budget in front of you, you are looking at an expenditure-driven budget here for Fiscal Year 2022,” said Land.

Referring to the document ‘Town Manager’s Presentation of the FY2022 Annual Operating and Capital Budget’ (which can be found on the town’s ClerkBase, under Town Council Agendas, dated March 17, 2021), Land stated “the significant impacts to the Fiscal Year 2022 budget include debt service primarily related to improvements at the Thomas Property ($151,703) and the 2017 acquisition of [Block Island Power Company] shares ($126,543), the third-year implementation of a revised wage schedule for New Shoreham Employees Association employees ($129,523), the state-mandated nine-year property revaluation ($110,000) effective [Dec. 31, 2021], and support of the Block Island School ($100,413).

“Those are some of the big numbers, but tonight we can focus on the departmental expenditures,” said Land. She provided an overview of the various departments’ recommended budgets for Fiscal Year 2022, as shown in the accompanying table.

The Town Council met again on Wednesday, March 24 for another budget work session on department level review, as well as reviewing community support, for B.I. Health Services, Island Free Library, B.I. Volunteer Fire and Rescue, B.I. Early Learning Center, Senior Advisory Committee, NAMI-BI, and the Block Island School. The proposed budget will need to be finalized and approved by the Town Council, and then voted on at the Financial Town Meeting on Monday, May 3.