EAST PROVIDENCE — A roughly two-hour workshop on the proposed Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget for East Providence held Wednesday night, Oct. 12, was at times contentious and ultimately ended with no official changes made to the initial proposal presented to the city council by acting city manager Tim Chapman a month ago.
The bulk of the gathering was spent by the council, Mr. Chapman, municipal finance advisor Paul Luba and city finance director Malcolm Moore attempting to hash out the possibility of backing a $1 million request from schools superintendent Kathryn Crowley in additional funding for the district.
Most of that money, $1,012,000 to be exact, would be used to pay for across the board 2.5 percent salary increases for all school department employees as well as $1,000 and $500 increases of the base pay for certified and non-certified personnel. The rest of the money would be used to purchase workman's compensation insurance for the district.
Mr. Moore supported the oft-recited claim by the teachers union, the East Providence Education Association, that its body is the lowest paid in the state at both the first and last (10th) salary steps. In fact, city teachers earn approximately $6,500 less than their counterparts across Rhode Island at the top step.
Mrs. Crowley said the proposed increases would get E.P. teachers to "about the middle" of the pay spectrum in the state if her proposed raises were funded.
Mr. Luba, who was cool to the proposal when it was presented at previous meetings on the budget, once again reiterated his concern with the increases, especially considering all of the city's contracts with union employees, including those of the teachers, were due to be renegotiated in the next calendar year.
Mr. Luba also once again said East Providence, much like other so-called "urban ring" districts which have been receiving extra state aid in recent years to fill a gap from previous ones, was likely to see little to no uptick in support from the General Assembly in the coming years and that the city would have to increase taxes regardless for maintenance of effort requirements and other additional costs related to personnel.
Said Mrs. Crowley, "I know we're in for some lean years ahead. My union knows that. They know they'll likely be getting cost of living increases only."
During the same portion of the discussion Erik Skadberg, a city engineer and president of the EPPMTEA (East Providence Professional, Managerial and Technical Employees Association) interjected, noting his members had, much like the teachers, given up significant concessions over the years and were dissatisfied with the potential of seeing their counterparts receive a raise while they would not.
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," Mr. Skadberg said. "We're tired of always having the burden of the helping the schools out."
Mr. Skadberg said his union was the first in the city to accept an insurance co-pay. He also said his department agreed to a contract with the former budget commission similar to the one the state-appointed overseers reached with the teachers. However, while teachers have received pay increases based on a negotiated percentage, his membership has received increases only based on federal cost of living statistics, including a zero percent increase this year.
Mr. Skadberg, in turn, called for increases for his union commensurate with what was being proposed to be given to the school department.
Mr. Chapman, who said to do so it would cost an additional $453,000 this fiscal year, was blunt in his assessment of the proposed raises for both groups.
"I don't agree with either side. They should stick to their contracts," Mr. Chapman said, adding these kinds of increases given outside of collective bargaining were some of the reasons "why the budget commission was here."
The proposed way of paying for the salary increases that gained the most traction Wednesday was that offered by out-going Ward 2 councilor Helder Cunha. Mr. Cunha, who will be the new State Representative from District 64 come the first of the new year, asked if it were feasible to take the money away from the $3.7 million set aside in the budget to fund a future synchronization of the city's fiscal year with that of the city.
Mr. Luba said, as he did previously on the topic, that if that money was taken away it would be unlikely the city could go ahead with synchronization because it would be too hard to play catch-up and that a tax increase would be required either way.
Mr. Moore said a tax increase of 1.93 percent, or 32 cents per $1,000, would be needed to support the pay increases being requested.
Mr. Luba, during another portion of the meeting, gave his assessment of the city's likely future taxation needs.
He said as projections currently stand, the manager and council could need to raise taxes at the rates of 4 percent, 3.27, 3.48 and 3.41 for the fiscal years 17-18 to 20-21. Those percentages are based off potential expenditure increases of $3.4 million, $3.5, $3.7 and $3.8 in those same years.
"Your costs are probably going to increase given that you have union contracts to be renegotiated and other benefits that you need to pay," Mr. Luba said.
The next discussion on the budget is set to take place on Tuesday night, Oct. 18, at the council's regularly scheduled meeting. A revised version of the budget must be approved and presented to residents one week before the end of the fiscal year (October 31) per city charter. If not, Mr. Chapman's initial outline would go into effect.
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