By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Town Manager Andrew Nota wants the schools to have what they need to provide a quality education. He wants the town to have what it needs to deliver services to residents. He wants to keep the tax rate low considering the town’s jump from a 3 percent unemployment rate in March to 17 percent in April. But, in recent comments, he said cuts, possibly very deep cuts, will happen.
“It’s important that people know the reality,” he said in an interview Thursday. “Everyone is going to be negatively affected.”
Nota’s proposed $21.2 million budget for fiscal year 2021 represents an increase of $212,614 over current year spending, and includes three layoffs and six positions to remain unfilled. One additional position is going to be eliminated and replaced with a lower-paid position. The total savings is around $750,000.
Meanwhile, the schools have identified around $1.4 million in possible cuts – in response to both Nota’s budget proposal that would give them $800,000 less than asked for ($31 million instead of $31.8 million), and an anticipated cut in state education aid. Rumors abound about just what the RIDE cut could be, with the original rumor being 10 percent (that would be a $300,000 hit to the school budget) but Nota said he’s been hearing it could be 25 percent (potentially a whopping $800,000 hit).
“There’s a lot riding on the federal stimulus for the next year,” he said. On Monday, he told the Town Council, “We’ve made significant expenditure reductions but we just can’t even start to have a conversation on overall budget impact until we know if there’s going to be support on the national level.”
And we probably won’t know until July at the earliest.
The town budget must be approved by June 24 for a fiscal year that starts July 1. But the General Assembly, which usually approves its budget by the end of June, is talking about passing a budget in July. Ultimately, it’s up to the Town Council, but Nota said he would like to pass a budget with cuts now to avoid having to go back to taxpayers during the year with a supplemental tax increase.
“That’s not a good conversation,” Nota said Thursday, “taxing and taxing again.”
He added not only does it potentially anger and confuse taxpayers but there’s a cost to sending out a supplemental bill. He’d like to avoid all that.
But what happens if, say, Congress decides Rhode Island won’t get any additional aid?
With the cuts already in the budget and a further shortfall under $500,000, that could be dealt with through benefit reductions, layoffs, and/or short-term furloughs. That sort of reduction would be doable, Nota said.
“Higher than that, now you’re talking about service reductions and large-scale layoffs, or a supplemental tax bill. That’s clearly something that is not attractive.”
He added, “Even if there is another stimulus, unless there’s money coming to Rhode Island and down to municipalities, it won’t help. Any funding that is able to supplant our loss in state aid, that’s what I’m focusing on now. If they can backfill from the federal government for one year our loss of aid … that’s what we’re hoping for.”
But even with that, Nota said, “It’s all about how you come back. It’s not just going into the budget and cutting. We’re not going to recover tomorrow. We need to partner with other groups. For me it’s much more than just cutting revenues. For me, it’s a resetting of the organization. We’re probably not going to have the same number of people a couple of years from now that we have today.”
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