By DANIEL KITTREDGE Reaction to Mayor Ken Hopkins's $311 million city budget plan for the coming year continues to roll in, with the city's Democrats criticizing proposal as "fool's gold." The Republican mayor, meanwhile, is standing by his April 1
Reaction to Mayor Ken Hopkins’s $311 million city budget plan for the coming year continues to roll in, with the city’s Democrats criticizing proposal as “fool’s gold.”
The Republican mayor, meanwhile, is standing by his April 1 declaration that the budget as presented “will not result in a property tax increase.”
“I know there were concerns, the opposition party saying that I wasn’t telling the truth. But that’s not true,” Hopkins said Friday.
The debate over taxes has been fueled by the state-mandated revaluation process conducted last year. That review of property values, conducted by Vision Appraisal, resulted in a significant increase in values for some homeowners – more than 20 percent in certain cases. The hot housing market has fueled some of the increases.
Due to the increase in values, Hopkins’s budget plan would reduce the residential tax rate from $20.77 per $1,000 of valuation, while the commercial rate would decline from $31.16 to $27.32. Finance Director Robert Strom recently told the Herald that homeowners who saw their property value increase more than 15 percent will likely see an increase based on the proposed rates.
Strom and the mayor have both said that as has been the case following past revaluations, officials expect roughly a third or residents to see a tax decrease, roughly a third to see an increase and roughly a third to see about the same bill for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Hopkins added last week: “If the reval wasn’t coming in, I still would have proposed a zero tax increase. It just happens to be a reval year.”
Last week, the Cranston Democratic City Committee and its chair, Maria Bucci – Hopkins’s rival in last year’s election – issued a statement “condemning the Republicans’ politicization of the unsustainable budget proposal” and questioning the “rushed budget process, as Republicans seek to fast track and jam through the fiscally irresponsible proposal before the public has the opportunity to vet it.”
“On Thursday April 1st (April Fools’ Day), the Mayor issued a fool’s gold budget promising no tax increase to residents without telling them that the proposal dramatically increases City spending with no way to pay for it in the outer years,” the statement reads. It also criticizes Republican City Council members for “erroneously trying to blame the State for any taxpayer who is receiving a local property tax increase.”
Bucci said in the statement: “At first, I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that Mayor Ken Hopkins would not be increasing tax revenue in this year’s budget. In the middle of a pandemic, our residents and businesses need the stability and predictability that fiscal responsibility brings. However, after reviewing the proposal by Mayor Hopkins, I am astonished that he is proposing such a dramatic increase in spending. Taxes are only one side of the coin. This budget proposal is nothing less than an astronomical increase in spending. What’s worse, that spending will be baked into the budget for future years to come and Mayor Hopkins has no way to pay for it moving forward. He is proposing to kick the can down the road. The Mayor ran on a platform of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and sadly his first budget is any but.”
The Ward 6 Democratic Committee later weighed in with its own statement targeting Republican Councilman Matthew Reilly, chairman of the Cranston Republican City Committee, who previously accused Democrats of engaging in “political posturing and games” while spreading “misinformation and false narratives” regarding the budget in an attempt to “distract” residents.
“As residents of Ward 6, we are troubled by our Councilman’s overly-political focus. We, as taxpayers, expect a thorough and serious review of the budget by all Councilmembers … We need substance, not soundbites,” the statement reads.
It continues: “Now is the time for professionalism and due diligence, not politics and distraction. Budget times require a responsible, mature councilman not a party hack looking to score cheap political points. Instead of working collaboratively, Matt Reilly would rather focus on his partisan role as Republican chairman."
Meanwhile, the council’s Finance Committee continues its series of hearings on the budget plan.
The lengthy sessions, held on Zoom, have covered the majority of municipal departments at this point, including public works, parks and recreation, police and fire, and the Cranston Public Library.
The next session, scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 21, will focus on Cranston Public Schools. Amendments will be considered on the night of April 26, and adoption of the budget plan is currently scheduled for May 6.
A full schedule, along with links to the online meetings and the full budget document, can be found on the city’s website, cranstonri.gov.
During Monday’s budget hearing, Council President Chris Paplauskas said the City Council hopes to hold its first in-person meeting in more than a year in May. The meeting would be held at Cranston High School East and utilize the School Committee’s existing setup to simultaneously stream the proceedings online.