By ALEX MALM
For a third straight year there will be no tax increase in Warwick after the City Council voted Thursday 7-2 in favor of Mayor Frank Picozzi’s $341.1 million budget which …
By ALEX MALM
For a third straight year there will be no tax increase in Warwick after the City Council voted Thursday 7-2 in favor of Mayor Frank Picozzi’s $341.1 million budget which increases spending by approximately $8 million.
Despite increasing spending and recognizing that Warwick will be faced with a structural deficit in next year’s budget Picozzi made it clear from the beginning that this wasn’t the year to raise taxes.
“We do have challenges with the budget in the coming years but we have solid plans to meet that challenge,” Picozzi wrote on Facebook. “We have been very successful at securing grants to deal with our aging infrastructure and improving the quality of life in the city, and will continue to pursue them.”
Picozzi said that because of his “administration’s efforts and initiatives we are having incredible economic growth and development occurring in our city and our tax base and revenues will be growing enormously over the next several years.”
“Our Planning Department is having a hard time keeping up with development proposals that are coming in. Already going through the process is a new hotel, more than 800 apartments, and many other retail projects,” Picozzi’s post reads. “Old unused buildings are being repurposed or torn down and rebuilt. A large warehouse near the airport is under construction, that alone will bring in more than one million dollars a year in taxes, as well as good paying jobs.”
As part of Picozzi’s budget $4 million is projected to come from the sale of former school properties..
The only amendment made to the budget was to move $120,000 from the paving budget in order to give additional funding to the school district.
Picozzi previously proposed an increase of approximately $4.8 million for local appropriations to the school department including $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Funds. Picozzi said that the administration and the school department administration have an understanding that if additional state aid comes in then it would be used to offset the local appropriation.
Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi who proposed the amendment said he was contacted by various residents about issues related to the budget. He said that he contacted the school department to see what could be done if the Council was able to secure more funding for the schools. He said their request was for funds to restore two teacher assistants originally eliminated by the School Committee.
Sinapi said that he spoke to Picozzi beforehand to see if there would be any problem with moving funds from the asphalt budget. Once he confirmed that there wouldn’t be a problem he found out the total needed to restore the positions.
“We're going to remain Switzerland on this one,” said Picozzi.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis said that it gave her a “bad taste.”
Travis said that she supports the positions but was concerned that there aren't any guarantees in place that would require the school department to use the funds on the teacher assistants.
“There's no guarantee that you’re going to get two TAs,” said Travis.
Ward 1 Councilman Bill Foley, a former principal at Davey’s Career and Tech Center and whose wife is a former Warwick teacher assistant, said that he was in support of the proposal.
“The biggest bang for the buck in the classrooms sometimes is the TA,” said Foley.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said that it “makes no sense” that the school department couldn’t find the $120,000 from their budget despite getting an approximate $4.9 million increase in local appropriations.
“To me it makes no sense,” said Ladouceur. “We are talking about $4.9 million dollars.”
Ladouceur said that over the past three years the school department’s allocation has increased by $8 million.
“It makes no sense to me. It makes no sense whatsoever, said Ladouceur.
Ward 9 Councilman Vincent Gebhart agreed and said that he thinks that the school district should try to recruit students that they are losing to other districts, which costs the district money each year.
The Council ultimately voted 8-1 on the amendment with Gebhart voting against.
Another amendment that was proposed during the meeting came from Ward 2 Councilman Jermey Rix.
His proposal was to increase taxes by $4 million which would equate to a roughly 1.75 percent tax increase.
“Good news is that 4 of the last 5 years have had a 0% tax increase,” Rix wrote on Facebook. “Bad news is that the City is relying on a lot of one-time money to do it ($7 million+ in federal funds and $4 million in sales of land, for a structural deficit of $11 million+, even if things go well. If a structural deficit of $11 million sounds like a lot, that's because it is. The most that the City can raise in a year - a maximum 4% tax increase - is about $9 million.”
Rix said that he is “deeply concerned that, when the federal money runs out and we don't have more land to sell, the City is going to be forced to enact a maximum tax increase and severe cuts to services.”
“Contractual increases and inflation (energy prices, goods, and interest on bonds) cost money, so, the structural deficit will only be getting worse next year,” said Rix.
Rix said that he is also concerned about future years particularly when it comes to the unfunded Other Post Employment Benefits liability.
Rix said that he was concerned that the City “ is not making significant contributions to fund future long-term obligations to pay for retiree health insurance (OPEB).”
“To blunt the impact of the structural deficit next year, and to make a much more significant investment towards a 9-figure massively-underfunded liability the proposed that the City didn’t rely on $4 million I proposed that the City not rely on $4 million from one-time land sales to balance this year's budget, but instead raise that $4 million through a moderate tax increase of just under 1.75%, and invest that full amount to pay towards OPEB liabilities,” Rix’s post reads.
While Rix said that he doesn’t take raising taxes “lightly” he said “we have to put ourselves in a position as a City where we can pay our bills and provide the essential services that people rely on. Not just during election years; every year, now and into the future.”
Picozzi, while not naming Rix by name in his Facebook post said “I was dismayed that one councilman proposed a large tax increase.”
“Inflation is surging, gas is going up every day, people are paying far more for groceries and other necessities than they were a year before and people are struggling,” said Picozzi. “I could not in good conscience put an additional burden on residents with a tax increase this year.”
Picozzi said that he feels Warwick is “flourishing and blossoming.”
“It’s time for Warwick’s renaissance,” said Picozzi.