SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A “bare bones” budget for 2021-22 was laid out this week for officials in South Kingstown, where municipal spending would increase by $320,552, or a little more than 1 percent, over this year.
Town Manager Rob Zarnetske told the Town Council on Monday that his proposal calls for $27.5 million in municipal spending, a 1.11 percent increase.
The School Committee’s anticipated expenditures total $63 million, an increase of $1.16 million, or 1.89 percent, over the previous year.
Two big unknowns heading into the budget talks are the amount of revenue the town will receive in the form of state aid, as well as the pending federal aid to schools and municipalities in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill slated to be passed by Congress.
“It’s been a very tricky budget in terms of preparing the revenue projections,” Zarnetske said. “What we did where we could was use last year’s experience as the basis for our projections on revenue.”
While hotel and meal “pass-though” tax revenue was down because of COVID restrictions, the town saw an increase in revenue from real estate conveyance taxes and property sales recordings. That was the result of an upswing in home sales fueled by buyers looking for “safe haven” communities away from COVID-19 hotspots, Zarnetske said.
Finance Director Zachary Saul noted a more than $1 million discrepancy in the proposed budget resulting from the School Committee submitting a $57,053,074 property tax transfer request. Zarnetske’s budget keeps the tax transfer level from this year at $55,994,773 but includes the school department’s proposed expenditures.
“It will have to be reconciled before final adoption,” Saul said.
Zarnetske said it is the school department’s purview to decide how to make adjustments to education spending.
“This table reflects the fact that they’ve requested more than we have proposed,” he said. “We have suggested to the council that they consider level-funding the school funding for next year. The rationale for that was that we anticipate additional federal monies coming into the schools and the municipality over the next year. We cannot account for that at this time.”
Monday’s meeting was the start of more than a month of talks about the town and school budgets.
“All of the numbers are not truly concrete yet,” Zarnetske said. Saul added that the town also must wait to see if any state and federal aid is restricted to certain expenditures, or if it is free to use toward any line items.
With an infusion of potentially millions in federal cash for the town, Zarnetske said the town could be less constrained this year than in typical budget years where spending is tight and cuts must be made.
“It depends on the money they send. They’ve been talking about running this through a community development block grant funnel,” he said. Such funds are usually restricted and used for capital projects rather than services. But if there is no restriction, the funds could be used, for example, to start a community mental health program or other beneficial initiatives, he said.
“I am hopeful that we’ll be able to do some services,” he added.
Council members also seemed interested in that prospect.
“When the federal stimulus becomes a law, potentially it could identify money for summer school programs,” Councilwoman Deborah Bergner said.
The council and School Committee were scheduled to hold a joint workshop this Wednesday to discuss the education part of the town’s spending plan.
A preliminary budget adoption could take place March 22, with public hearings scheduled for April 14 and 15. An adoption of a final budget could then take place at the April 26 regular council session.