The Johnston Town Council unanimously approved Mayor Joseph Polisena’s $111.2 million town budget plan for fiscal year 2020 during a Monday hearing that featured little debate.
The mayor’s budget represents a nearly 1 percent increase over the previous year. Polisena said Wednesday morning that the property tax rate will fall from $27.49 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.89. Tax Assessor Kim Gallonio said Wednesday that the commercial rate will increase from $27.49 to $27.99, while the tangible property rate is rising from $59.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $63.99.
Polisena discussed the overall tax cap increase in town during the meeting, which lasted just under 30 minutes. He said that the overall spending increase of less than 1 percent, and added that tax bills should be issued between July 15 and 17. First quarter payments, he said, will not be due until Aug. 26.
As Polisena told the Sun Rise last week, individual tax bills will depend on what a resident’s home is worth after the results of the statistical revaluation, which takes place every three years.
While residential property values increased about 26 percent, Polisena said two factors should help soften the blow on residents. Firstly, the implementation of a two-tier tax system – which Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law – allows for a more even playing field with commercial and industrial rates.
“The commercial and industrial pay a little bit more,” the mayor said. “We’re not going to gouge them, but they’re going to pay a little bit more. And I’m sure they’re not going to complain because Johnston is one of the best places to do business and we still have people coming in wanting to open their business.”
Secondly, Polisena said the motor vehicle tax rate dropped 15.6 percent, from $41.46 to $35 per $1,000 of valuation. He lauded House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s ability to keep “holding firm” on the car tax phase-out.
“We talked about the numbers,” Polisena said. “Even if someone goes up on their home, they’re still going to save on their taxes. So it’s kind of a wash for some people. As you know with statistical revaluation or any revaluation, a third goes up, a third stays the same obviously and a third drops.”
Polisena officially stated what he told the Sun Rise last week as well, that he is level-funding the school department. The $56.8 million total budget is composed of a $37.5 million town local aid appropriation, $18 million in state aid and $1.2 million in Medicare and other funds.
He noted several increases within the budget, including a 10 percent hike on stop-loss insurance and a 61.5 percent jump in workers’ compensation. Property and liability insurance payments increased 7 percent, while trash pickup had a modest 2.84 percent bump. The town also lost about $500,000 in state funding.
He said there are also increases tied to collective bargaining agreements, including 3 percent for police, 3 percent for fire and 2 percent for Local 808 municipal workers. Polisena noted that negotiations between the town and Local 1491 have hit an impasse, but said “nature will take its course on that.”
Polisena noted that the budget for salaries has decreased 1.23 percent after the town saw eight retirements as of June 30. He said of those eight positions, the town will likely only fill two to three. He noted the repair division — which works on fire, police and public works vehicles — only has two mechanics as of now.
“We need at least three. We don’t need four, we used to have four, we need at least three,” the mayor said. “So we will probably be looking to replace one of the mechanics. It’s very difficult though because most importantly we want them to have the proper credentials, but it’s very difficult to find people who can pass a drug test. Obviously that’s paramount that they pass a drug test in order to come work for this town, especially working on the vehicles.”
Polisena touched on a few other highlights, including the continuing expansion of programs at the Johnston Senior Center and more than $650,000 in scholarships over the next 25 years as a result of renewable energy agreements.
He also said there are businesses willing to spend upwards of $10 million in District 1 to erect modern storage units, and he reassured the council that the project in the old BJ’s parking lot is still proceeding.
Polisena spoke highly of Finance Director Joseph Chiodo and his office in his work preparing the budget. The mayor told the Sun Rise last week that Chiodo was continuing to check his figures in preparation for the hearing.
He also praised the work of Tax Collector Bethany Alviano and Tax Assessor Kim Gallonio, both of whom were seated behind Chiodo during the hearing. He said their work, combined with that of the rest of the department heads, helped create a “sound budget” for the town.
“I want to commend Joe Chiodo while I’m standing before you this evening,” Polisena said. “It’s really important what Joe’s done, I really appreciate what he’s done. I think we got a lot accomplished … We still hold strong with our cumulative surplus, we still hold strong with development.”