EAST PROVIDENCE — At its meeting held Tuesday night, Oct. 18, the East Providence City Council by a 4-1 vote gave its formal approval to the $174,334,775 Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget proposed by acting city manager Tim Chapman with just two changes of note to his draft plan.
Only Ward 1 councilor Bobby Britto voted against Mr. Chapman's submission, which includes a .5 percent tax increase and just over a million dollars more in expenditures. Mr. Chapman said most of that money is needed to fulfill contractually obligated pay increases for public safety personnel and to fund purchases of fire apparatus.
"I will not vote for a tax increase. Like I've said before we need to sharpen our pencils and go through our expense items and cut our expenses…We're talking seven straight years of tax increases. That's unacceptable," Mr. Britto said, while referring to a series of tax increases state-appointed Municipal Finance Advisor Paul Luba said are expected to be needed in future years.
The council agreed by a 3-2 vote to take $1.48 million from the $3.7 million line item earmarked for the continued support of a voter-backed initiative to fund fiscal budget synchronization with that of the state for use to provide additional funding requests made by the school department, the municipal workers union and administrators and the police department.
The school department will receive $1 million in extra support for proposed across the board personnel raises, information technology upgrades and the purchase of workman's compensation.
The East Providence Professional, Managerial and Technical Employees Association, the union of most other city employees aside from school, police and fire, will receive $453,000 for pay increases which mirror those being given to school personnel — 2.5 percent across the board.
And the East Providence Police Department will receive $27,000 to pay for school crossing guards.
Mr. Britto and Ward 4 councilor Tim Conley voted against the proposal, the latter originally suggesting a cut of some 3.47 percent to all departments except police and fire. Mr. Conley, however, eventually voted to approve the budget as a whole, saying he accepted the views of the majority of the council — At-Large rep Tracy Capobianco, Ward 2 rep Helder Cunha and Ward 3 rep Tommy Rose — who supported the changes.
Mrs. Capobianco called her vote to take the money out of the synchronization fund "an easy one for me." She said supporting the three requests made was "more pressing" than funding synchronization, which she said "isn't a priority."
Mr. Cunha, who initially suggested taking the money from the sync fund at a meeting two weeks ago, remained on board Tuesday, saying it was the best course of action. Mr. Rose agreed, saying cutting the city side budget anymore was unfeasible.
In voicing his opposition, Mr. Britto said "that money is there for a specific reason" and that synchronization was something he has supported since he was elected two years ago.
The city has long has to borrow Tax Anticipatory Notes (TANs) to make up for shortfalls due to having a different fiscal year than the state. Because of low interest rates and East Providence's improved bond rating, the city pays approximately $300,000 in interest on the TANs. If interest rates rise soon, as expected, that number will increase and has in the past cost the city upwards of $500,000 per year.
"It's come to the point where we need to think long term instead of only short term," Mr. Britto added about the matter.
The only other change of note to Mr. Chapman's initial plan was moving $75,000 earmarked for a new heating system at the senior center from the capital improvement line item to the Riverside Rec renovation project where the money will be used to improve parking. The change was available to be made because East Providence recently received a federal grant of the same total from Congressman David Cicilline for the senior center work.
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