Manager Tom Coyle presented a $59.8 million budget to the Town Council Monday, a $1.8 million increase over current year spending. The 2015 budget, which still must be reviewed and approved by the Town Council, reflects the slowest rate of increase in five years.
Of that total, $22.4 million is for the town’s budget and $37.4 million is for the school budget.
“The whole logic was keeping the tax rate low and trying not to cut services,” said Coyle. This is his first year managing the town’s budget; former Town Manager Bill Sequino held the job for 25 years, taking a new job last June.
To add to the challenge this year, the town’s finance director left last fall; interim director Kristen Benoit worked with Coyle to craft the budget.
The proposed budget would increase the tax rate by 49 cents, from the current $22.90 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $23.39. For a house valued at $400,000, that would be an tax increase of $196.
The town’s debt service payments – for such building projects as the new Cole Middle School, Swift Community Center renovations, and the new police station – remain the largest single expenditure in the budget. In 2015, the payments total $6.7 million, down $85,000, from $6.8 million.
The overall budget increased 3.54 percent over fiscal year 2014, but that comes out to a 2.1 percent tax increase in part because it is offset by business expansion in East Greenwich, such as the addition of Poliquin Group, the fitness training headquarters on South County Trail, which opened in September.
Among the new expenses in the town’s side of the budget are two additional employees, one for the information technology department and one for public works.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Coyle of the IT hire. Wendy Schmidle has been the town’s lone IT employee for several years, as reliance on computers and technology has increased. The price tag: $55,000.
The other new hire would be a third mechanic for DPW. Lately, “there’s been a bottleneck of vehicles waiting to be repaired,” said Coyle.
He also put in the budget money to pay for a human resources consultant. “I feel there’s a serious need for a parttime consultant,” he said, to cover day to day questions and high-level human resource issues. No one now on staff with the town has human resources skills.
Another added expense for 2015 is $25,000 for the Board of Canvassers, to cover costs of a primary and an election next fall. That expense will then drop out of the budget next year only to return again the following year.
Coyle said pension costs are up for 2015, particularly for police and firefighters. Fire department expenses, alternatively, were down due to the elimination of one administrative assistant. This is the second year the fire budget is part of the town’s budget, after merging with the town in June 2013.
The Council will hold a public hearing on the budget Monday, April 14. By town charter, the council must adopt a budget by May 15 to recommend to the Financial Town Meeting, which is set for June 10.