State Reps in Town
The Democrat trio of Tiverton’s state representation — Rep. Jay Edwards, Sen. Walter Felag, and Sen. Louis DiPalma — appeared before the Tiverton Town Council tonight. Here are my notes:
Edwards started out by noting his request for legislation enabling biannual licensing reviews (or longer).
Felag: The budget is the major issue, and Governor Lincoln Chafee must submit a 2012 budget by February 3, and he could also submit a supplemental 2011 budget.
Town Council President Jay Lambert: has heard that school aid may be cut.
DiPalma: State aid to schools only indirectly affects town (mainly affecting the school department). RIDE is reworking funding formula; Little Compton, for example, was going to lose money but is now gaining money [funny how nobody ever loses money, given time] Edwards: Tiverton’s projected loss is about $165,000 per year, “give or take”
Lambert: Referring to the current controversy over whether the town must indemnify the schools against losses in state aid, then cuts certainly do affect town.
Edwards: Has proposed to increase construction aid. Also noted that it would cost only $13 million per year to “hold harmless” suburban communities from changes in the funding formula, and he’s put forward legislation to do so for two years.
Felag: The funding formula that passed last year doesn’t go into effect until next year, and it will see multiple legislative attempts to change it before then.
Coulter: Asked about mandates from the state: how would we formally appeal them.
Felag: Until 2006, there were about 280 mandates from the state. “It’s easy to say I’m going to get rid of state mandates, but there are a lot of good mandates.” Solution: “submit a list that you’d like us to work on.”
Edwards: “Doesn’t have to be formal; you can just send us an email.”
Felag: Trying to get state to have budget by beginning of June, but municipalities should think about having some 13-month budget needs.
Resident Joe Souza: The state should repeal the funding formula. The governor’s legislation to eliminate mandates died in legislature, last year. Souza illustrated by requesting a show of hands that there’s no support on the council for binding arbitration for teachers, and he opined that fire and police arbitration should be non-binding.
Felag: [Changing the subject.] Already have in legislation for no tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge.
To continue the liveblog with material that’s mainly of local interest: Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz has researched who has authority to act on behalf of the town administrator when he’s not able to be reached (for signatures and so on) and, finding nothing satisfactory, drafted a resolution that would allow the council to appoint somebody (e.g., the town clerk).
Councilor David Nelson asked whether Mr. Teitz thinks that President Lambert acted inappropriately by signing a request to the state auditor general for an extension. Teitz said he believes so.
Town Administrator Jim Goncalo presented his first draft of the municipal budget; some notes:
- 2% increase in salaries for department heads.
- No increase for any bargaining units.
- Addition of a 1/2 clerk in treasurer’s office.
- Blue Cross/Blue Shield advised that they include a 10% general increase in costs, plus 2.5% for a “health reform” increase
- Tax base has increased from $2,183 million to $2,191 million; motor vehicle tax from $1,192 million to $1,150 million.
Council Member Nelson: 3.8% increase in budget = $644,002
Goncalo: The application of the projected near-million-dollar surplus from FY10 would be taken up by the Budget Committee as a recommendation to the financial town meeting
Council Member Coulter: If we’re increasing the budget even as we’re collecting more in taxes than we need, then we can change the increases.
Council Member Ed Roderick: If we have liabilities, we may not be able to access the surplus.
Council Member Cecil Leonard: Surplus only brings town up to 3% reserve required in the charter.
Goncalo: Regarding “so called” increase [so called?]
- $10,000 in debt service
- $225,000 for mandates revaluation
- 15,000 general government
- $257,000 financial administration
- health insurance/liability: $128,000
- pension costs: $76,000 (50 in police)
- unfunded liabilities: $40,000
- half-clerk in treasurer’s office: $20,000 (not including benefits)
- $62,000 for fire and police combined increased
- $74,0000 for DPW ($30,000 for engineering study for new license for landfill, and landfill closure engineering study)
Lambert: Budget should reflect full liability to the schools, if we’re obligated to pay for state aid shortfalls
Goncalo: The best place would be as a FTM docket resolve. [an astonishing suggestion, I think, that would write that interpretation explicitly in town policy, if approved at the FTM]
Talk of folks on fixed income (meaning, typically, Social Security) is common in these discussions. I didn’t get a chance, but I wanted to point out that retirement income isn’t the only way to have “a fixed income.” The amazing thing about public budget discussions is that increases such as labor and utilities are presented as things that must be passed on to taxpayers. I can’t go to my boss with the assumption that he’ll cover my increased costs of living; what’s the equivalent restraint on public budget setters? (Elections, of course, but that should be a more explicit consideration.)
Councilor Coulter proposed the following resolution:
WHEREAS: The Town Council is responsible by Charter for a long-range plan which includes the development of goals, objectives, strategies, plans, and policies in furtherance of such planning; and
WHEREAS: Rhode Island General Laws also place responsibilities upon the Town Council, among other things, to generally manage the affairs and interests of the Town and specifically partake in financial and budgetary matters concerning the Town; and
WHEREAS: Long-range planning will better assist the Town in meeting its current financial obligations and future needs and facilitiate improved financial and budgetary decision making all for the betterment of the Town’s financial stability and security;
IT THEREFORE BE RESOLVED, by the Town Council of Tiverton, Rhode Island that:
(1) That the Town Council supports and approves in concept the development of a Long-Term Financial Plan to be in the best interests of the Town;
(2) That the Town Council hereby expresses its intent to further investigate, develop, and as appropriate, implement a Long-Term Financial Plan;
(3) That such Long-Term Financial Plan will include the Capital Improvement Plan and may also include a Financial Corrective Action Plan to address the known outstanding obligations of the Town; and
(4) That all Town departments, boards, commissions, and officers shall be so notified and invited to assist in the investigation, development, and as appropriate, implementation of the above.
It passed. Coulter will start by collecting known liabilities.
Now, they’re discussing a new controversy related to school budgets.
President Lambert in previous discussion spoke about school committee’s claim of indemnification against loss of aid. Now, he wants to discuss a second issue under potential litigation. School lawyer Robinson’s letter to the education commissioner requesting a hearing and a ruling says that the town has “taken control” of $75,000 in tuition from Fall River students attending Tiverton schools. School Committee Chairwoman Sally Black’s related letter calls the move “illegal.”
Lambert summarizes the school department’s argument as follows: The town must include Fall River students in its budget and then hand over Fall River tuition directly to the schools, effectively paying the schools twice for the same students. No town official was aware that there was an issue. The treasurer says they’re handling the matter just as they always have (at least for 8 years). The town budgets for the students and then puts the money in the general fund. Indeed, Lambert cited a requested deposit from the schools into the town’s general fund of one of last year’s checks from Fall River. The school committee has never discussed the matter in an open meeting.
In Lambert’s opinion, “This dispute has nothing to do with tuition for students coming from Fall River.” It is no coincidence that this issue arises during discussion of Little Compton students’ possibly attending Tiverton High School (paying over a million dollars per year). “This is simply an attempt to set a legal precedent that would have Tiverton taxpayers paying for Little Compton students through the school budget, while the district still receives payment from Little Compton.”
Frankly, under Chairwoman Black, with the advice of Solicitor Robinson, one begins to get the feeling that the School Committee is hungry for lawsuits. Some might call it out of control.
It’s been a long meeting. One interesting note: Treasurer Phil DiMattia has submitted notice that he’s “temporarily” changed his voter registration to elsewhere, although his wife maintains property in town. There was some discussion of whether he can keep his elective job; Solicitor Teitz is researching it.