SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Taxpayers in South Kingstown won’t be seeing an increase in their property rates in the coming year after the Town Council on Monday unanimously passed a $101 million budget that leaves spending mostly unchanged.
It’s the third consecutive year the council has kept the tax rate flat. The residential property tax rate will stay at $14.45 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“I think it’s important to be conscious of the reason that holding the tax rate steady for three years is unheard of — because, in general, it’s not considered good policy,” Council President Abel Collins said. “I understand we’re in uncharted waters with the COVID crisis and there’s reasons to go down this path, but there are dangers as well, even if we are getting federal money that will allow us to paper over deficit spending, which is really what we’re engaged to in a greater degree with this budget than last year’s budget.”
One big change to this year’s budget was the inclusion of language that will allow the schools to return to the council three times in the next fiscal year — October, January and April — to ask for additional funding.
The language formalizes a process for the school committee to ask the council, even though the charter specifies that a department can come and ask for supplemental funding at any time.
The possible supplemental funding requests by the schools are the result of uncertainty about the flow of federal dollars to the town — and specifically the schools — while the budget was being crafted.
One area of education spending that could change is a projected $1.1 million variance or spending gap, officials said. The schools have so far identified about $638,000 in reductions to make up the difference, including reduction of COVID-related staffing and savings in health and dental insurance costs. That leaves about a $469,000 difference to make up.
The town should soon learn how it will be able to spend millions of dollars in federal aid money tied to coronavirus relief that’s headed South Kingstown’s way over the next two years.
South Kingstown stands to get $6 million in county aid and $3 million for the schools, although the amounts are split in half over this year and next.
The town will still use about $440,000 from its general fund balance.
“I think allowing for no increase in the tax rate is a huge accomplishment for the Town Council,” Council member Rory McEntee said. “And being able to do that for the third year in a row is really a good feat.”
McEntee said a lot of considerations go into passing a budget.
“Obviously a big thing in town is the bond referendum on May 4,” he said. “If, in fact, that passes, there will be debt service costs of $2 million-plus over the next 20 years, which is the maturity of the bond. The schools have already made assurances to us that they know they need to reduce their budget or find a way to make up for that $2 million-plus on an annual basis until the maturity of that.”
The property tax transfer to the schools would be $55.9 million — the same as the current year.
“I think that’s smart, I think that’s wise,” McEntee said. “It puts (schools) in a position where they start planning immediately.”