NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Members of the North Kingstown Town Council unanimously approved the adoption for the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2022 during their meeting Monday night, which sees a total consolidated expenditure budget of $121,722,837, up from $117,051,204 in the FY21 budget.
“I think this budget is a sound budget,” Town Manager Ralph Mollis said, and told the council that if they felt the budget was over aggressive that they could make the changes they saw fit, though the budget was passed as presented after some discussion among the members during the two hour long meeting.
“This Fiscal Year 2022 budget reflects a zero-based budgeting process as required by the Town Council,” Mollis said in a statement ahead of the meeting. “While it’s been necessary to reduce some of the Department’s requests in order to minimize the impact on the taxpayers, the budgets presented to me by Department Heads were the result of their thorough assessment of their needs and compilation of a budget they felt necessary to provide the level of services our residents have come to expect.”
Despite the strains put on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has dominated the past year, Mollis said he projects another surplus at the end of FY21, which concludes on June 30, as the FY20 Audited Fund Balance grew to $15.6 million and the unassigned portion grew to $11.6 million, something which he attributed to the town’s recent awarding of an A++ rating from Standards & Poor.
In the budget proposal, Mollis projected a tax rate of $17.50 to fund the FY22 budget, a 2.4% increase over FY21’s rate of $17.09, which was the same rate from FY20, leading Mollis to argue the town on average has had a 1.2% increase over the past few years, and said that towns that gradually raise those rates annually tend to be more stable than those who raise higher some years and don’t change for others.
Among some of the projects budgeted for in the proposal are the hiring of two additional police officers, the introduction of a Bike Patrol, new public safety equipment, funding for the Fire Department to begin a four-platoon system in FY22, restoring the annual Road Paving Budget to $750,000 annually, the beginning of a Personnel / Human Resources Division, a new playground at Wilson Park, a new playground at the Beach Campus, restoration of the town’s public restrooms, a new playground at McGinn Park, court repairs, mound repairs, infield and outfield restorations and the renovation of Feurer Park into a softball field, continued improvements to the Municipal Golf Course, IT projects, a fully funded revaluation as mandated by state law and new bus for the Beechwood Senior Center.
The budget also provides funding for a water main condition assessment, the rehab/replace of Well #10, Gilbert Stuart Road Bridge Reconstruction and road maintenance.
In particular, Mollis noted the Municipal Golf Course had a great FY21, something which both he and Recreation Director Chelsey Dumas-Gibbs attributed to more golfers hitting the links by returning to the game or giving it a shot during the COVID-19 pandemic as a relatively safe outdoor activity.
Finance Director Jim Lathrop said in FY21 the town has been able to return $94,000 in previously unclaimed money back to taxpayers while noting that the town had completed its purchase of light posts from National Grid and had found inactive landlines in old or unused offices that they were able to cut.
Councilor Kerry McKay asked Mollis for updates on the town receiving reimbursements from the state and federal government fro COVID-19. Mollis said the number is still up in the air and would probably change between Monday night and the April 14 public hearing on the budget, but that any money that is received will go solely to COVID-related or one time expenses, noting he didn’t want to use the money to plug deficit holes as the funding is a one time payment and doing so would “kick the can down the road” and lead to future debts.
McKay wanted constituents to be aware that the budget is rising by $5 million from this past year, and hammered the point that any money coming from the state or federal government comes from taxes they pay as well, but that overall the town did a fantastic job putting together the budget considering the circumstances and the other councilors also praised Mollis, Dumas-Gibbs, Lathrop, Town Clerk Jeannette Alyward and other town employees for their efforts.
Town Council President Greg Mancini called for a vote on the items individually as per procedure, and all were unanimously approved. The General Fund was approved at $36,984,475, debt service at $4,867,538, the golf course fund at $1,772,190, the Allen Harbor fund at $439,887, the water fund at $4,582,414, the sewer fund at $2,344,955, the court fund at $225,000, the transfer station fund, which for the first time includes recycling, at $1,195,965 and the school fund at $67,162,787, of which $11,286,187 is coming from the state.
The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for March 29, while a public hearing for the budget is set for April 14.