BURRILLVILLE – With many elements of how the upcoming fiscal year will play out still unclear, town officials will send out an estimated tax bill to residents next week, knowing that an amended bill may likely need to be sent out later in the year.
The Town Council passed a budget of around $52 million in May, a roughly $1.5 million increase over the prior fiscal year, with an additional $1.1 million set to be dedicated to schools in 2021.
The schools increase is expected to be funded through state aid, putting the district’s budget for the upcoming year at roughly $34,000,000.
But at the time the town’s budget was planned, officials had hoped to delay sending out tax bills until the state of Rhode Island passed its own budget, and the amount of fiscal aid coming to Burrillville could be fully discerned.
Months later, no action has been taken by the legislature, and funding amounts remain a mystery with state revenue down due to COVID-19.
“We were waiting for the state to pass a budget,” Town Manager Michael Wood explained to members of the Town Council at a special meeting held on Tuesday, Aug. 18. “As of now, that has not been done, and there’s no expectation that it is going to be done any time soon.”
But the town, Wood noted, still needs to pay bills, with or without legislative action.
“The tax bills have to go out the door at some point,” Wood said. “I can’t wait forever. You’re going to get a tax bill out, and it’s going to be an estimated bill.”
According to a release from the town this week, the bills will be sent out on or about Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the first quarter payment due on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Motor vehicle taxes will be delayed due to additional uncertainty regarding the state’s phase-out schedule.
“This delay will not affect your registration status,” the release notes.
The estimated rate for 2021 is $16.01 per thousand in value, up from $16.00 in the 2019/2020 fiscal year. The change amounts to a tax increase of $2.74 for the average single family home valued at $273,940 according to tax assessor Jennifer Mooney.
And the figures are far from a sure thing.
The town’s current fiscal plan provided the funding Supt. Michael Sollitto said was needed to launch remote learning, with councilors voting to allocate an additional $286,000 to the school department last week.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the Burrillville School Committee voted to start students on partial in-person learning, a more costly option to be funded out of the school budget with the hopes that money will be returned to the fund once state aid is approved.
The initial budget assumed that Burrillville schools will be receiving $1.2 million in state aid this year to supplement costs.
“This is really a dicey situation,” explained Wood. “We have a problem if the state aid doesn’t come.”
Council President John Pacheco was not optimistic.
“We’re not going to get the money because it’s not there,” Pacheco said of the state allocation.
Sollitto noted that 28 percent of Burrillville students have registered for the district’s distance learning academy, choosing to remain virtual regardless of the town’s plan. Registration for the academy was reopened this week and the superintendent said he anticipates the number to rise to between 35 and 40 percent.
“There are going to be people that are upset with any decision we make,” Sollitto said.
Councilor Raymond Trinque said that he could not justify a further tax increase regardless of the plan for schools.
“If we take the trouble that people are in at this point – both financial and physical – and throw a tax increase on… I don’t think this is the time,” Trinque said. “Yes, the kids will get educated, but they wouldn’t have money to buy food for them. We already have a budget that has questionable funding.”
“I would really find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to vote for anything more,” Trinque added. “It’s like financial suicide.”
Councilor Dennis Anderson described the situation as being, “painted into a corner.”
“Most of the FY21 budget has already been committed,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to have to reopen June’s budget. I don’t want to raise taxes. I want to reopen schools. There’s no good solution here.”
Sollitto noted that even if Burrillville schools wait until January to reopen, “It’s a limited fix.”
“At some point those students are going to come back,” he said. “We’re kicking the can down the road a bit and we’re going to have some difficult times down the road.”
The complete release from the town regarding estimated taxes can be found here.
Editor’s note: The above article has been updated with the latest budget information.