NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Town Council passed a fiscal plan for the year Monday night with a total spending increase of $723,502 over the previous year, including a 2.4 percent increase for the school district.
The adopted $47,450,563 budget is nearly $500,000 more than proposed by the Budget Committee, with more funding dedicated not only to schools, but also to the road repair, contingency and retirement accounts than recommended in budgeter’s leaner plan. It will come with a tax levy increase of around 2.65 percent.
Deviation from the budget board’s plan came mostly through an increase in the line item for schools. The committee had recommended level-funding the district this year, pointing to $2.46 million in COVID-19-related assistance expected from the federal government.
But in public hearings last month, teachers and administrators noted that the federal funds are not meant to supplement the regular budget. School Committee Chairman James Lombardi repeated the plea for funding on Monday, noting that the increase will allow the district to at least maintain current programs.
“I would be very appreciative, and the School Committee and the School Department and the kids would be very appreciative, if that’s something you can do,” said Lombardi. “I think it keeps us at status quo. We’re happy with that.”
Councilor Paul Vadenais made a motion to appropriate $400,000 more than recommended by budgeters.
“Their costs increase just as ours do,” Vadenais said.
“Some of the rational that they were using for that was that they had a large fund balance this year,” Vadenais said of Budget Committee’s proposal. “Most of us know that if you use a fund balance to try to try to balance an operational budget, it creates a structural deficit. It’s not recurring money.”
The school increase was approved unanimously.
It was a faster budget process than previous years, with little debate on most line items. Councilors had scheduled a second night of budget talks on Tuesday, June 29, but cancelled the meeting after completing the agenda on Monday.
Some savings were found in the line items for legal and IT services, with Councilor Kimberly Alves noting that both accounts had money in reserve.
“We do not have that earmarked for anything in particular,” said Finance Director Cynthia Dejesus when asked about a roughly $65,396 reserve in the town’s legal account.
Councilors voted unanimously to allocate just $5,000 for extraordinary litigation in 2022, instead of spending the $90,000 recommended by both budgeters and Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski.
After a similar conversation on IT services, councilors deducted $6,000 on that line item.
Councilors also cut the capital budget for North Smithfield Fire and Rescue by $48,000, pointing out that department received $443,000 in forgivable PPP loans this year. Council President John Beauregard said he and Zwolenski met with members of the department.
“We asked them to help us out a little bit,” Beauregard said, pointing to a request to replace a generator. “What we agreed on was they would cover the cost of the generator.”
Chief David Chartier’s attempts to comment on the issue appeared to go unheard by councilors, likely due to audio issues as he attended via Zoom.
But the money saved was quickly allocated elsewhere.
Councilor’s put $600,000 into the town’s road paving budget, $50,000 more than recommended by both budgeters and the administrator. In the OPEB account for retirement benefits, the council budgeted $250,000 exceeding the recommendations in both proposals by $100,000. And $100,000 was placed in a contingency account.
All three increases had been recommended by former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski during a public hearing in mid June, with many of the same points repeated by Vadenais this week.
“Previous councils have made a commitment to fund that at $250,000 to get to a level that in 20 years, it’s self sustaining,” said Vadenais of the OPEB account. “I don’t see why we should decrease it. It’s not something that we want to do – it’s something that we need to do.”
The complete adopted fiscal plan can be viewed on the town’s website here.