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Few turn out to grumble over budget

May 24, 2012

PAWTUCKET — Despite a lot of concerns and grumbling by residents about a proposed budget that could result in an 80-cent per $1,000 property tax increase, only a small number of people turned out Wednesday night to speak to city officials about it.
Most of the audience at the first public hearing on the Mayor Donald Grebien's budget request consisted of municipal department heads. Of the dozen or so people who took to the podium, more than half were there on behalf of the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center and to to urge the City Council to keep a $55,000 appropriation for its operation intact.
Mayor Donald Grebien addressed the council first, imploring members to keep most of his spending plan in place and to refrain from making any cuts that can't be supported or changes based on revenue assumptions.
He said that while he and the council members might not agree on every detail of how the city's $12 million structural deficit should be handled, he stressed that it must be addressed “forcefully and cooperatively” in order to maintain control of the city's financial future.
The mayor did speak to a recent letter informing city officials that the city will no longer be obligated for its portion of the rent for the state Welfare facility at 461 Main Street.
He said this change will eliminate $169,560 of the proposed FY13 budget, which equals five cents on the tax rate.
He told the council they now have two new options: they can reduce the budget request from 80 cents to 75 cents on the tax rate or can allocate these funds to the city's reserve account, which has become nearly depleted over the last few years.
Grebien noted once again that the proposed tax increase of 80 cents on the tax rate will mean an additional $109 for the average homeowner. Yet, he said that without adequate revenues, continuous cuts to the city's budget “will quickly tilt us out of balance and straight towards bankruptcy.”
Several residents did address the council about the tax increase, including Donna Barchi, who said she lives in a mobile home on Beverage Hill Avenue and is on disability. “I can't afford any more taxes,” she said. Barchu added that with the city's car tax rate, her lowered home valuation and the proposed property tax increase, she said she feels she is “being held hostage here.”
Bill Greenwood said that in tough economic times, things like 15 paid holidays, uniform allowances, and longevity pay for municipal workers should be reduced; while Steve Kapalka offered a lengthy list of cost-cutting suggestions, including eliminating all-day kindergarten, using federal grants for more “green” and energy-saving projects, and negotiating for numerous concessions in benefits from the city's unions.
Alan Tavares passionately urged the council to do all it could to build up the city's reserves while Linda Dewing stressed that city leaders should be exploring ways to bring in more revenue instead of just to looking at things to cut.
Jose Ramos told the council, “I work hard for my money. Please don't raise taxes,” and urged the council to instead look at the pensions and salaries that are afforded to municipal union employees as a way to find savings.
Apologizing for coming to the meeting in his work clothes, Ramos added that he had rushed over to City Hall because he thought the room would be filled. “I'm shocked. Where are the residents?” he said, adding that he knows many in the city who are upset about the higher tax bills coming their way.
The council indicated it would not be taking any action on the budget proposal that night and voted to table a Finance Committee meeting that was scheduled to follow the public hearing. Following the public hearing, City Councilor Christopher O'Neill presented The Times with his own recommendations for $1.3 million in adjustments to the budget.

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