N.S. Council passes $51.2 million budget with funding for HR manager, website upgrade

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The North Smithfield Town Council approved a $51,255,709 budget Monday night, managing to spend more than what was previously proposed by the Budget Committee while keeping the tax levy increase slightly below the anticipated amount.

The savings came, primarily, through utilization of reserves, and with the help of some unanticipated grant funding.

By the end of a roughly five hour meeting on Monday, June 26, the board had dedicated $800,000 to road repair, around $30,000 for a website upgrade, added a human resource manager and increased the school department budget by half a percent.

On Tuesday, they returned to set the rates, passing a 2.29 percent increase across the board with real estate rates up from 13.914 to 14.246 per thousand; commercial from 18.9 to 19.399; and tangible 42.62 to 43.632. Councilors said the plan will amount to an added tax of $133 for the year on a home valued at $400,000.

Councilors did make some cuts to items such as proposed raises for stipend positions, including the judges and lawyers serving the town. Both budgeters and Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski had recommended 3.25 percent raises, but the majority of councilors agreed the stipends should only be adjusted on a two year cycle.

“They apply for the position and that’s what the position goes for, for two years,” said Councilor Douglas Osier. “It’s not like they’re a town employee. The department itself wasn’t expecting an increase.”

Councilor John Beauregard was among those to make the case for funding the proposed raises, but was ultimately outvoted.

“You don’t make your cuts by taking nickels and dimes from people,” Beauregard said, pointing, in part, to Town Solicitor David Igliozzi. “There’s a lot of times when we call on his services and that meter is not running. David does a lot for this town.”

“If you call Solicitor Igliozzi, he’s there,” agreed Zwolenski. “Please consider that.”

Councilor Paulette Hamilton pointed to the need for consistency, noting the increases were an all or nothing scenario.

“I think the reason we’re doing this is to try to keep the taxes down,” Hamilton said. “Small things add up.”

Town officials were also split on the subject of hiring a human resource manager at a cost of $35,000, a position that was not part of the recommended spending plan.

Zwolenski noted that Benefits and Payroll Coordinator Karen Bernadino has been performing the duties and is certified for the role.

“She’s up to date,” the administrator told councilors.

“Karen’s taking on this role because we’re a small town and we don’t need to spend this kind of money,” added Beauregard.

But Town Council President Kimberly Alves, voting in the majority with Hamilton and Osier, responded, “We think we need this position with what’s been happening,” a likely reference to some recent legal issues involving Town Hall staff.

Zwolenski said he felt the proposal should have been brought up prior to the meeting.

“We should have had a discussion,” he said. “We didn’t.”

An upgrade to the town website was another high priority item for Osier, who noted the town hasn’t updated it’s online presence in around 6 years.

“I think the website needs work and I think now’s the time to do it,” Osier said.

That roughly $30,000 expense was funded through a reserve account that previously held $63,000 under councilors direction on Monday.

Police Chief Tim Lafferty noted that many of the items originally requested as part of his department’s capital budget were funded through a recently-approved COPS grant from the Department of Justice, including new cruisers, cameras and a sign board.

For schools, the board passed a small increase of around $108,000, up half a percent from last year’s appropriation, following news of an $1 million increase in expected state aid. School officials had decreased their initial request for a 3.5 percent increase to one percent or $215,335 following the news, saying they still needed some funding due to unanticipated expenses including increased enrollment and the need to hire both a math interventionist and an athletic director, following the recent resignation of Matthew Tek.

Other items for schools included funding for a school resource officer and to refurbish tennis courts.

Beauregard noted that 200 people signed a recent petition in favor of the athletic hiring.

Asked if the town’s funding increase will go toward hiring Tek’s replacement, School Committee Chairman James Lombardi responded, “I think that’s a committee decision. I think a math interventionist is much more important.”

After the meeting Hamiton described the fiscal plan as a “quality of life budget.”

“We worked to improve many things in the town including adding $800,000 to road repairs, resurfacing and refurbishing the tennis courts, providing safety features for the playgrounds, additional funding for the seniors and the school department, in addition to providing a drone and police cruisers, as well as new firefighter positions,” she said. “It was a collaborative effort that addresses many important issues for our residents.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds like Bill E should run for office in town. He is clearly already spending lots of time doing “research”

    • Very simple not time consuming research that anyone with sound education and business experience could accomplish. And yes it is tough to debate someone with real data driven analysis instead of unfounded, unrealistic, and uncreative ideas all at the expense of the taxpayers. Thank you Tony for your opinion!

  2. Tony I always know more than yourself aka the waster of tax dollars. First the former North Smithfield athletic director had students performing all of the administrative task such as scheduling of games, facilities, and officials. Second Jim Lombardi said at the last council meeting he would rather have a math interventionist but your pal who acted like a child said three times I want an athletic director. Just so you understand it’s not “educational athletics” and education is the number one priority of school not athletics. North Smithfield has a responsibility to students to prepare them for life and the working world and math is more important than participating in sports.

    Now if you really want to know who can do the job, just review my budget comments. Have one of the guidance counselor’s do the job as we have 2 too many. How about this fact just a few short years ago North Smithfield had only a principal at the middle school and before the construction of the middle school no principal but now North Smithfield has 2 principal’s and 2 vice principal’s. Also note that the student population has been declining over the last 20 years by almost 1% per year on average (a real fact that is proven). So maybe the vice principals should assume the athletic duties as most larger high schools in RI have one principal and one vice principal and double the student population. This is a creative plan that fosters teamwork and expands the experience of employees who share in other school duties. Just like a player on a sports team who plays both offense and defense.

    What’s next on the athletic list, a new stadium with luxury boxes, a parking garage, and a retractable roof. Or may a indoor track, an Olympic sized swimming pool, or an ice rink. Just note that Mount hockey plays in a broken down, small facility but has had the most successful hockey team in the country producing many professional NHL players and 2 number one picks. So the field and equipment is not the solution it is the commitment of the coach and players involved. Also note the Mount coach was paid very little (less than any North Smithfield coach) and developed the greatest high school hockey team in the country. Has North Smithfield had any major sport professional athletes. I think we did have one Jeff Jilson but he went to Mount.

  3. Bill E – “waste of taxpayers’ money athletic director”? Do you have any idea what duties an AD performs? That there are responsibilities and requirements that would then have to be met by another administrator, at then no additional compensation? But you’d be okay with that, right?

    Honestly, that statement basically negates your efforts at logical conclusions. We don’t have education-based athletics in NS without an AD. Is that an acceptable path forward?

  4. The approval of additional school funding shows that none of the town councilors reviewed or studied the detailed school budget. In just a half an hour look I found the following:

    I have heard a great deal of talk from Jim Lombardi and the school superintendent about a large increase in the student population. I found that claim to be odd and we all know that math is not the school’s strong point, so I did some actual data research. Based on the data NS provides to RIDE and is published on the RIDE website I found that NS is up a whole 4 students in 2022-2023 versus 2021-2022 but down 5 students from 2020-2021. So much for the large increase. The second issue I noticed was the 2nd grade increase in students. While they are correct that the 2nd grade enrollment will go up in 2023-2024, but what is failed to be realized is the 3rd grade enrollment will go down, so they need to shift teacher resources between grades. Instead of adding another high-cost union salary, the school department needs to just shift resources and be fiscally responsible for the first time.

    The second point that needs to be addressed is the current teacher’s contract includes the athletics stipend of $14,000 per year. This means that the teachers’ contract needs to be amended if the school department is hiring a waste of taxpayers’ money athletic director. Most districts athletic directors are a nonunion position so I would remove it from the contract. I also see from the contract how the union slipped in another $14,000 stipend for guidance which is already a full-time paying position. I can see NS turning the athletic position into a $100,000 salary. Just note that Smithfield on pays $77,000 for their athletic director.

    Another area of overspending is the NS school department has three guidance counselors, and they budgeted a fourth on sabbatical (per published NS budget request). Now the state of RI average student to counselor ratio is 392 students to every counselor which means we only need 1.3 counselors. Now if we use the 300 ratios per student, we only need 2 counselors. So, NS has budgeted 2 additional counselors that are not necessary at roughly $125K salary and benefits ($250K total). I also noticed they budgeted a 9% health benefit increase which is absurd. The trust always gives a ridiculous estimate and then the actual cost only goes up around 4% so that’s another $128K in padding a budget. The third area of issue is the administrative budget that adds 3 new positions at a total cost of $443K. The school’s budget is way too fat and needs to be trimmed.

    The budget already includes a 3.5% increase and they want another 1%. Are they kidding. We also need to consider the already $2M slush found already accumulated over the years. This is plenty of money for poor developed capital wish list with zero thought and plan. Also note that the NS school department over the last 3 years has ended the year with an average 2% surplus.

    It’s time for Jim Lombardi and Jean Mao, aka the spenders with little impact on education and test scores, to go.

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