Well aware of the difficulties facing the community as a result of COVID-19, town staff assemble a proposed 1 percent budget increase for fiscal 2022. Now, it's up to the Town Council to decide what's next
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PROPOSED FY2022 BUDGET SHOWS MODEST 1 PERCENT INCREASE
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (APRIL 21, 2021) – The Town of Middletown is looking at a modest $791,000 increase in its proposed fiscal 2022 budget.
According to figures released earlier this week to the Town Council, the proposed 2021-22 budget is $75,893,271. That’s up $790,825 from the current approved figure for fiscal 2021, or a 1 percent increase.
Before any of the new numbers are locked in for the upcoming financial year, the council must perform an in-depth review of each department, all the incoming revenues and outgoing expenditures. A new proposed tax rate was not broached as part of the discussion on Monday night.
Public hearings on the proposed budget are tentatively slated for May 19 and 26. There, residents and business people can offer input and feedback on anything in the budget before the council adopts the new totals.
“We want to make sure we spend the time, and everyone has a great understanding of it and all questions get answered…” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “We’re not looking to rush through it. We’re looking to make it as seamless and as smooth as possible.”
As council members review the budget binders with all things fiscal in Middletown, Rodrigues suggested he and his colleagues forward any questions to Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown, Finance Director Marc Tanguay, Superintendent of Schools Rosemarie K. Kraeger and School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Spengler. That way, everyone can get answers and be on the same page as they dig further into the town’s finances.
“If you have any questions before we start the budget process, get with Marc, get with (Town Administrator) Shawn (Brown)…” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “We’ll take whatever time we need to take on it, but we want to make sure we get it right and there’s a solid understanding from everybody.”
According to figures before the council, the School Department is seeking $42,924,277, which is $1,077,160 more than the current number for education, or a 4 percent increase.
Without getting into the specifics of the budget itself, Kraeger said she and Spengler welcomed the opportunity to go through the preliminary numbers with the council – and the community.
“Even in these difficult economic times, we've collaborated with the Town to build a budget that maintains excellent programs and services that our students deserve," Kraeger said. "First and foremost, great teaching and learning, as well as access to arts and music, athletics and a wide array of other extracurricular activities.
She added that everyone is doing the best job possible, especially considering the circumstances.
“While our students, parents and teachers have done an excellent job during the pandemic, we know that virtual learning is different from in-person learning,” Kraeger said. “The budget request ensures a quality educational program that supports teaching and learning opportunities. The School Committee wants to emphasis that the monies the Town appropriates to the School Department will be utilized wisely, responsibly and as intended. Middletown has a superb school system of which our community should be proud.”
As part of the town’s budget review process, council members are expected to sit down on an upcoming Saturday with each department head to do a deep review of the numbers and make sure everything checks out. A date for that session had not been firmed up as of today, but would be widely advertised once it’s finalized.
A quick review of the early budget numbers reveals no showstoppers or new major expenditures or revenues. Based on that information, it appears the town and school budgets attempt to deliver the same – or similar – services as the current budget without noteworthy reductions.
That’s not to say town officials and staff aren’t extremely cognizant of the bottom line. Currently, there’s a “freeze” on all non-essential expenditures and each purchase gets a close review before any buying is done.
The council is also driving a discussion about ways to make Middletown more affordable for senior citizens and families, a conversation that always includes taxes. There are also multiple concepts before the council about ways to change the tax system employed by the town.
Information from Tax Assessor George Durgin shows the normalized tax rate following the recent statistical property revaluation is $12.03 per $1,000 of residential assessed value and $16.24 per $1,000 of commercial assessed value.
“Now, it’s time to get to work on the budgets,” Rodrigues said. “I suggest taking good notes with any questions you have and getting those questions answered and move it along.”