Council rejects call for delay to North Smithfield budget timeline

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Town Council rejected a request this week by Finance Director Cynthia DeJesus to change the date the first draft of the municipal budget is due, stating that a delay would likely hinder efforts by the town’s budget board.

DeJesus requested an amendment to the Town Charter that would have seen the recommendation from the town administrator presented to the Budget Committee by the second Monday in April, rather than its current due date by the second Monday in March.

“There are many reasons why it’s not feasible to get all of the information in – that the town administrator needs to compose his budget by that date, and what ends up happening is there are many, various versions of his budget,” DeJesus said. “It becomes cumbersome and confusing.”

DeJesus gave several examples, noting that that town doesn’t get updated rates from Blue Cross/Blue Shied until the third week of March and property tax rates aren’t determined until May.

“These are big ticket items that it’s almost impossible for him to get a good estimate of his – or hers – budget without having to change it five or six times,” the finance director said. “It’s not working. Every year I get asked about this.”

DeJesus said that as a result, there have been a few times that the administrator has missed the deadline by a week or two.

“He’s going to have very inaccurate numbers,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. Give us a little more time for more accurate, better estimates.”

But two councilors who have served previous stints as budgeters – Paul Vadenais and Kimberly Alves – had a different perspective.

“If we sit back and don’t do the administrator’s budget until the second week of April, then they only have five weeks, because theirs is due by the first week of June,” Vadenais said.

Vadenais pointed out that the School Department faces the same issue, and has to start a budget in November. The issue, he said, was discussed several years ago by the town’s Charter Review Commission and ultimately changed from a previous deadline in January.

“That really is the latest you want to start,” he said of the current March deadline. “Once he makes a recommendation, it’s really supposed to be frozen at that point and then the Budget Committee works on it.”

“You’re cutting the Budget Committee a month out of their deliberations,” Vadenais added. “You can’t compress this thing so tight that no one can act on it.”

Alves agreed, noting that most line items in the administrator’s budget should be, “pretty straightforward.”

“You don’t need those items right in the beginning,” she said. “I don’t really agree with moving it. I think we’d be putting just way too much pressure on the budget committee.”

Alves noted that the town’s budget process has improved since DeJesus joined the staff five years ago.

“It does run very streamlined right now,” Alves said, adding, “They still need the extra time.”

Vadenais noted that even with the proposed change, the town still wouldn’t have solid revenue numbers.

“That’s the big variable,” he said. “You’re still not going to know that.”

Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, who was not present at the Monday meeting, is expected to offer a line by line presentation of his draft budget recommendation to budgeters later this month.

Contacted later by NRI NOW, Zwolenski noted that it is the first Town Council meeting he’s missed in 17 years as Monday was the birth of his first granddaughter.

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