The Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the Financial Town Meeting June 9, 2014. Credit: EG News
A quorum? The Financial Town Meeting wasn’t even close, with a grand total of 35 registered East Greenwich voters in attendance by 7:30 Tuesday evening. Without a quorum – 250 registered EG voters – the $59.8 million budget for 2015 approved by the Town Council May May 12 passed into law.
The budget will increase taxes by 40 cents per $1,000 assessed value in fiscal year 2015 (which begins July 1), to $23.30 per $1,000 assessed property value. For someone with a house assessed at $400,000, that comes to a property tax bill of $9,320, an increase of $160 over this year. It reflects a 1.75 percent tax rate increase and is the lowest tax increase in five years.
The town’s portion of the budget is $20.5 million, plus $703,150 for capital spending. The school portion is of the budget is $32.4 million. Town and school overall debt service is $6.7 million.
Among the budget increases, the school appropriation is up $695,899. Pension costs are also higher: up $180,148 for fire fighter pensions, $110,046 for police, and $102,177 for town employees. In addition, Social Security payments are up $62,000 and the OPEB (other pension and employee benefits) are up $50,000.
Other increases came from election year expenses for the Board of Canvassers ($21,650), a new information technology assistant ($55,000), a new DPW mechanic ($51,266), and insurance (for a total of $204,000).
On the school side, the biggest change signified by this budget is the approval of providing Google Chromebooks for every student of East Greenwich High School. The cost included in the budget is $136,000 for fiscal year 2015. School Committee Chairman David Green said East Greenwich would be one of the first, if not the first, public school district in the state to implement a 1:1 computer device to student implementation.
Another school department increase came in the special education budget, up $298,000 for out of district placements.
After the two budgets were presented, two residents posed questions and then it was over.
At the beginning of the meeting, Town Moderator Jim Patti noted this could be the last Financial Town Meeting. He was referring to the possibility of charter change on the November ballot that would call an end to practice.
Under town charter, at least 250 voters registered in East Greenwich are necessary to constitute a quorum at any Financial Town Meeting. The charter reads, “If, within one hour of the published commencement of the meeting, no quorum exists, the Town Council’s budget, including all items on the warrant, shall be final.”
There has been no quorum for more than a decade.
Town Council President Michael Isaacs said Wednesday the council would take up the possibility of adding charter changes – including one to eliminate the FTM – to the ballot at an upcoming meeting.
“It would be discussed as an agenda item first,” he said Wednesday. “The first step is, do we propose anything?”
Isaacs said the council was already planning to discuss putting in a change to add the fire department to the charter, adding the same provisions that already exist for the police department. The fire department was only added to the town last June, when legislation was passed abolishing the separate East Greenwich Fire District. Isaacs said considering a charter change to eliminate the FTM only seemed appropriate.
“From comments that people have just made in general, I think that one of the items will be what to do with the FTM,” Isaacs said.
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Yes, we should get rid of it. We have plenty of opportunities to voice our opinion during the budget process. FTM is a lovely tradition, I have been to a few in hopes that my participation would matter but no one ever comes. The lack of attendance should be taken as implicit agreement. The TC spends hours working for us all year, the time and money spent preparing for and sitting at this meeting must feel like busy work for them!