SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council approved a proposed $98.1 million budget for 2019-20 on Monday, but not before doing some fiscal gymnastics to ensure that $1500,000 would be available to fund an additional four EMS crew members for the town, starting in January.
The council rejected a petition that would have taken $200,000 from the $67.1 million education budget in order to fund the EMS crew, which supporters say is needed to cover and provide adequate response for southern shore residents and seasonal visitors.
“I think it’s very important to fund the EMS,” Councilman Joe Viele said. “We’ve had e-mails from dozens of local people who say they think this is a need that should be filled. I’m happy staff has come up with a way to fund it without taking it from the schools.”
Council members also said no to a petition that would have moved $165,000 of school money to cover a shortfall in debt service funds. The council said it hopes to make up the amount by adding about $40,000 yearly in the coming years, although Town Manager Robert Zarnetske said that move would still leave a deficit in 2024.
To come up with funding for the EMS personnel, the council is relying on several sources.
They include a projected $50,000 reduction in EMS overtime and a corresponding $50,000 increase in third-party billing revenue.
The council will put in $25,000 from its $65,000 contingency fund for 2019-20, and $10,000 will be transferred from the finance department, which will not need the cash to spend on a vacant finance director position.
Finally, $15,000 will be transferred from the other post employment benefits, or OPEB, reserve, which is at $75,000.
“We think we can get to funding with those assumptions that will get us to a four-person crew in January,” Zarnetske said.
The town has no ability to add money to the budget by increasing the property tax. South Kingstown is at its limit for raising local property taxes, which is set by the state at four percent per year.
South Kingstown’s proposed $98.1 million budget would impose a levy increase of 3.97 percent.
The general government budget stands at about $26 million, a 6 percent increase.
The schools would receive a 1.75 percent property tax transfer over what the town gave last year, and the council has said it doesn’t have the ability to add more money to the budget. The state also is contributing $800,000 less in aid this year to the town.
The schools have eliminated 21.7 teacher positions, 11 full-time equivalent teacher assistants, four administration positions and a half-position in custodial services. It doesn’t include retirements.
The council will use some of its unspent $65,000 contingency account from this fiscal year to fund several programs next year, including $24,000 for the non-profit Tri-County Community Action Agency.
It offers a wide range of programs and services including education, employment and training, health care including dental and behavioral health, senior services, energy assistance, emergency services, food and nutrition programs.
Council members also will allocate $16,000 for the SMILE (Science and Mathematics Initiative for Learning Enhancement) program. SMILE is for students interested in investigating science and math as well as college and career preparation. Students meet weekly to explore fun and challenging hands-on activities that integrate both science and math.
The budget as passed is still subject to a petition for referendum until May 13. To do so would require 200 signatures. If a petition is accepted, a referendum would be held June 4.