By Mark Schwager
The views expressed below are my own and are not an official communication from the Town Council or Town of East Greenwich.
Finishing the Town Budget for 2021 was a difficult process. We face dramatic uncertainty due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus on the physical and financial health of our country, state, and town. Congress is debating additional fiscal aid to states, while Rhode Island tries to close a gaping budget shortfall caused by the collapse of state revenues and the increased costs of services related to the pandemic. The state’s budget, which determines crucial funds for East Greenwich educational and town services, may not be completed until August and will likely contain significant cuts to our state aid. And although COVID-19 in Rhode Island is waning, the recent dramatic flare in other parts of the country put our state’s future control of the virus at risk. Residents of our community are still challenged by uncertainty in their personal and professional lives, and left to sort out how their own financial lives have been impacted.
The council priorities in constructing this budget included keeping residential rates low in the setting of a recession, preventing faculty layoffs of educators in the classroom, maintaining adequate reserve funds so that a supplemental tax bill would not be necessary when the state cuts aid to East Greenwich, and minimizing the tax impact on Main Street small businesses.
It is a testament to the skills of our manager and finance department, and the due diligence and focus of my colleagues on the council, that we were able to achieve these goals. This required the town to leave several vacant staff positions unfilled, postpone most of our planned capital improvements, and raise commercial rates on larger business to levels comparable to neighboring communities.
Budget Highlights include:
- Residential tax rate increase is 0.95%
- Additional funding for schools to support library media, music, language, PE and behavioral health faculty
- Maintained reserve funds to cushion expected loss of state revenue
- Half of EG businesses pay the same or less in tangible taxes.
Many obstacles remain ahead for our town. State aid is up in the air, schools face the difficult task of reopening in the fall, and the public health response to coronavirus remains demanding. We are fortunate, however, that the adopted 2021 budget that begins July 1 puts our community in a good position to respond to these challenges.
You can find more details on the 2021 budget below:
Mark Schwager is president of the East Greenwich Town Council.