PAWTUCKET — By an 8 to 0 vote, the City Council on Wednesday gave final approval to an amended city operating budget for fiscal year 2014 that requires no property tax increase.
The $111 million spending plan will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. Under this budget, the property tax rates will remain unchanged from FY13, with the residential rate at $23.06 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and the commercial rate at $30.88 per $1,000.
The bottom line budget amount remained unchanged from the proposal presented by Mayor Donald Grebien. However, at a special session held last week, the City Council revised several areas of the budget, allowing for a total decrease in expenditures of $359,442, and an increase to the reserve fund of $149,019. The council voted 7 to 2 to give first passage to the amended plan.
No one spoke at a public hearing on the amended budget. Prior to the vote, several councilors expressed their pleasure with the budget plan that was drafted by the Grebien Administration, although the praise was tempered by calls for more unity and cooperation between the two governing sides. A key sticking point is the mayor’s continued insistence that two new jobs are needed to boost economic development — money for which the council removed from their budget lines and placed into reserves.
City Council President David Moran had the harshest criticism for the mayor’s repeated attempts to get the two positions funded, saying “no means no.” He warned that the budget “still has a long way to go” in the uncertain economic climate, and also cautioned the mayor and his administration to be more cooperative with the council “or nothing will get done.”
Councilor Thomas Hodge also criticized the mayor’s continued call for additional staffing, saying the city was doing alright in attracting new businesses with the existing personnel.
Councilor Larry Tetreault praised the administration for coming up with a budget with no tax increase. However, he noted that this was made possible because of the city and school department getting substantially more state aid than in years past and the Fire Department receiving a federal grant to hire 21 new firefighters, thereby reducing overtime by about $1 million.
Only Councilor Albert Vitali continued to voice support for the mayor’s wishes to hire professionals to boost economic development. However, he said would vote in favor of the amended budget.
Councilor Jean Philippe Barros, who had joined Vitali in a vote against the amended budget proposal at last week’s meeting, was not present.
The biggest changes to the mayor’s plan came from the removal of $91,126 from the Planning Department’s budget for salary and benefits for a new “communications liaison” and $50,000 that had been budgeted as a contribution from the Pawtucket Foundation for an economic development director.
Also reduced was money that had been budgeted for the hiring of civilian employees to work as emergency dispatchers. As their hiring is based on a new collective bargaining agreement, the decision was made to cut $107,460 down to $50,000 for part-time workers and to cut $307,841 down to $185,000 for full-time employees.
Another substantial change was a cut by $150,000 from an original budgeted amount of $300,000 for the savings generated from vacancies (known as lag in hiring) and turnover occurring throughout the fiscal year.
Other smaller changes that decreased or increased revenue in certain lines, some attributed to earlier errors under a new payroll budget model, contributed to the amendments that were recommended by the Finance Committee.
Grebien had previously urged the council to support his plan to create a new communications liaison in the Planning Department and a jointly-funded economic development director post in a “public-private partnership with the Pawtucket Foundation.