Polisena’s first proposed town budget cuts residential property tax rate by 34%


Next year’s budget has been proposed and property owners should expect a decrease in residential property tax rates.

“To offset the soaring cost of residential real estate values, I’ve lowered the residential tax rate per thousand from $23.34 to $15.30,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr.  explained Friday. “Our commercial rate dropped less than a dollar as commercial real estate didn’t rise like residential real estate. In fact, the value of commercial office space decreased.”

The town ran a “Notice of Proposed Property Tax Rate Change” legal advertisement in the June 16 edition of the Providence Journal.

Later that day, Polisena also announced a “Town takeover of the Johnston School Department.”

“The Town of Johnston proposes to increase its total property tax levy to $75,540,802 in the 2023-2024 budget year, the total property tax levy this year is $72,855,935,” reads  the legal ad. “The result is a proposed net tax levy increase of 3.69 percent.”

Most property owners are seeing a near doubling in residential real estate values.

Johnston “is currently conducting a revaluation of property, which is mandated by the State of Rhode Island,” according to the budget legal ad, which explains:

 “It is anticipated that there will be an overall increase in property values and when coupled with the increase in the proposed tax levy will result in a property tax rate of $15.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for residential real estate, $27.43 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the commercial real estate and $64.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for tangible personal property, as compared to the current property tax rates of $23.24 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for residential real estate, $28.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for commercial real estate and $64.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for tangible personal property.”

According to the mayor, “the preliminary FY 2023-2024 residential tax rate has been reduced by 34.17 percent.”

“A property tax rate of $15.36 for residential real estate, $27.49 for commercial real estate and $64.69 for tangible personal property would be needed in the coming budget year to raise the maximum levy authorized by Section 44-5-2 of the general laws,” according to the budget legal ad.

School spending was, once again, the driving force in an expanding budget, according to Polisena.

“The highest total expenditures were debt service to the schools, $2.1 million, and I decided to give the schools an additional increase in school operational aid which is amounts to another $2.1 million (this is separate from school buildings — this goes to operations like teacher pay, support staff pay, funding special education and out-of-district expenses),” Polisena wrote in an emailed response to questions.

Education funding in Johnston is expected to increase from $60,116,216 this year, to $63,496,920 in the proposed budget, a $3,380,704 (or nearly 6 percent) increase.

“The school operations are the town’s biggest budget driver. On the town side, the town’s biggest increase is the new police contract (prior to this contract they were the lowest paid department in the state which was abhorrent and embarrassing for the 12th largest municipality),” Polisena wrote. “After the public safety increase, which I fully support, the town fully funded all staffing vacancies so we can provide better services to residents. The bigger problem may actually be finding people to fill those vacancies, particularly in public works.”

Police department funding is expected to increase nearly $1 million, or about 5 percent, from the current $19,167,064 to a proposed $20,121,079. The current fire department  budget will see a similar increase, from $22,619,742 to a proposed $23,535,958 (an increase of about 4 percent).

Johnston Town Council will discuss and vote on the 2023-24 budget at a 5:30 p.m. public meeting  on Thursday, June 29, at Johnston Municipal Court, 1600 Atwood Ave.

“The council traditionally has its budget public hearing toward the end of June,” Town Council President Robert V. Russo said last month. “By then state revenue figures should be in and the council will have time to review for any adjustments necessary on the budget submitted.”

Town Councilman Robert J. Civetti has been asking for a copy of the budget since April, when Town Charter requires the proposed budget be presented to the council.

“Not one discussion about the budget during a council meeting; not one presentation by the mayor or his personnel at a council meeting and the budget is advertised in the paper showing a 7% increase to the overall budget,” Civetti said last week after seeing the legal ad.

Civetti assured taxpayers that Town Council will discuss and vote on the budget before tax bills are sent out to the public.

He met with Polisena early Monday morning to see the full budget proposal.

Civetti said the mayor explained “how he was budgeting to fill all the vacant positions.”

“My main concern is that the Amazon tax money of $5.7 (million) is included in this budget when debt service only goes up by about 2.2 (million dollars),” Civetti warned. “That means over $3 million of Amazon money is being used to fund operating costs. What happens down the road when debt costs go up where is that money coming from?”

Civetti wants to the see the town set up a debt service reserve fund to cover these costs.

In the wake of surging property values, Civetti broke down the administration’s proposal, and what it may mean to the average taxpayer.

“With every revaluation, usually one-third see a tax increase, one-third stays the same and one-third see a decrease,” he explained. “Everyone is different. All I can tell at this time is how much the levy increased versus prior year. But that increase can be attributable to a combination of growth in the tax base and increase in tax rate … details only the Tax Assessors Office and maybe Finance Director can provide.”


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