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NARRAGANSETT — The Narragansett Town Council on Monday held its first budget hearing for the proposed $62.5 million spending plan for 2020-21.

“We’re happy to get the budget off the ground,” Council President Matthew Mannix said. “Some of the cities and towns that have spoken with the town manager and I have different ways of doing the budget, and some are having struggles with the manner in which they do it.”

The council has scheduled budget work sessions for May 6 and 13. An additional public hearing and first reading of the budget ordinance is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 1. A second reading and final adoption is now scheduled for June 15.

Superintendent of Schools Peter Cummings gave a presentation on the proposed education budget, which totals $32.3 million.

“Even in this time of distance learning, our attendance is better than it’s ever been,” with more than 90 percent of students logging in, Cummings said.

“Narragansett is ranked among the best districts in the state, year in and year out and that’s not by accident,” Cummings said.

The town contribution with capital improvements would be $26,769,218, an increase of $363,910, or 1.38 percent, over the $26,405,308 budgeted this year.

The schools have thriving career and technical education and agricultural programs, and a growing plumbing program, Cummings said.

The schools will face challenges in the fall related to COVID-19, the superintendent said.

“Our students have been in extremely different learning circumstances for about a third of the year,” he said. Instances such as gaps in students’ reading skills will be evident, he said.

Other logistical issues for COVID-19 social distancing, such as how students will move in hallways and on buses, will have to be worked out as well, he said.

“We don’t know, for example, if we’ll have half the school in one day and half in the next day,” he said.

One staff position at both the elementary and middle schools has been cut to reflect changes in student population. The high school, however, will see an influx of students, topping 475.

“Our high school next year will be the biggest it has been in a decade,” Cummings said.  

The big unknown in the school budget is COVID-19 related response costs.

“We know they will be there and will be significant,” Cummings said.

Capital costs are set at $1.1 million for the schools, including $400,000 toward a high school auditorium rehabilitation. The auditorium is used for school events as well as other Narragansett community functions.

Narragansett Finance Director Chris Spagnoli gave an overview of the municipal budget, about $35.6 million.

The proposed residential tax rate is $10.66 per $1,000 of valuation on a residential property, up from $10.23 per $1,000 this year.

“For a home valued at $500,000, this is a proposed increase of $215 per year, or $17.92 per month,” Spagnoli said.

The levy would increase 3.63 percent, or $1.9 million.

The operating budget would not use any of the town’s unassigned fund balance reserve. However, the reserve would be tapped for capital projects but still be at 11.8 percent, which is within the town’s policy range, Spagnoli said.

The town estimated the effect of COVID-19 on town revenue, and kept state aid and hotel and meal tax revenue numbers at 2019-20 levels, though they could end up lower.

“We were very conservative in our revenues,” Spagnoli said.

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