NEWS

Hopkins proposes 6.3 percent increase for next operating budget

Posted 4/5/22

Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins introduced his proposed municipal budget to the Cranston City Council for the 2022-2023 fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2022. In a budget address to the citizens of …

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NEWS

Hopkins proposes 6.3 percent increase for next operating budget

Posted

Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins introduced his proposed municipal budget to the Cranston City Council for the 2022-2023 fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2022. In a budget address to the citizens of Cranston and council members on April 1, Hopkins outlined the City’s proposed spending plan for both its operating and capital budgets.

Hopkins proposed a $330 million operating budget that was an increase of 6.3 percent from the current year’s budget of $311 million.

“I have presented a comprehensive and prudent financial plan for our city that is worthy of Council support. It allows us to keep Cranston going in the right direction and meets the public safety, educational and public service needs of our residents,” said Hopkins.

In his address, Hopkins noted the significant challenges that the city, residents and businesses faced over the last several years with the pandemic.

“I am confident we are moving towards a renewed and prosperous quality of life that has always made Cranston special,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins emphasized that Cranston has gone three consecutive years without an increase in local property taxes.

“The rating agencies who look at our financial health give my administration positive grades,” said Hopkins. He noted the city ended the last fiscal year with a $674,000 budget surplus.

“Again, this year I have tried to develop a budget that would continue our best practices to wisely invest tax dollars, keep spending in check, protect the rainy-day fund, and keep taxes affordable for residents and families.” Hopkins said. “Under extraordinary financial challenges, I believe we have achieved that goal with this budget.”

Mayor Hopkins reviewed with the City Council, the successes Cranston and his administration had enjoyed during his first fifteen months in office.

“I am proud of our efforts in economic development and the investment in our business corridors like Rolfe Square and Pawtuxet Village,” Hopkins said. “I am very excited with our plans for the Knightsville area to make that historic section a destination of choice for shopping and dining.”

Hopkins highlighted several pending commercial projects that will help residential taxpayers by expanding the commercial and industrial tax base. He mentioned the Trolley Barn site, Comstock Parkway, the upcoming Top Golf groundbreaking and the potential development plans for the Legion Bowl, Cranston Print Works, training school property and the former medium security prison in the Howard Industrial Park.

Hopkins also emphasized his focus on safety and appearance of Cranston’s neighborhoods.

“This upcoming budget reflects my total commitment for top notch public safety protection, responsive emergency services and a no nonsense focus on crime, graffiti and unacceptable antics by undesirables and unwanted visitors,” Hopkins said.

“As I did last year, I am again proposing a maximum level of funding for our police and fire departments. While our neighboring capital city may tie the hands of law enforcement, I will work hand in hand to make sure our police department has the tools to protect businesses, families, and children in this city,” said Hopkins. “When others question effective crime fighting tools like license plate readers, I am financing them as invaluable police resources. If you want to endanger our streets and citizens with ATVs and reckless behavior, you will feel the full authority of the Cranston Police Department.”

Hopkins noted that the next budget includes funding for an additional 12 new firefighters.

“When our neighbors and friends call for rescue service and fire services, Cranston will be there for them,” Hopkins said.

He stated that while other departments looked for additional personnel, the budget only provides for an additional home inspector for the Building Department and a combination of two part-time positions to provide for a bilingual clerk to serve as an interpreter in the municipal court.

In outlining his spending plan, Hopkins noted that he was proposing a budget for Cranston schools of $175.7 million that included $98 million from Cranston taxpayers.

“Last year I proposed a historic additional increase of $1.5 million in local dollars for our schools and this year I am proposing an additional $1 million,” Hopkins said.

He noted this was on top of the additional $1.2 million on debt service that city would be paying for school capital projects like the new Garden City School, the planned new Gladstone Street School, and the additional expansion of Eden Park School.

“With the $18 million available in funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and $3 million in a reserved fund balance account, I am confident that our schools have the leadership and resources to meet the needs of our students. No programs should be cut with all this funding,”  Hopkins said.

Hopkins emphasized that like families and businesses, Cranston’s government has been negatively impacted by inflation and surging costs for items like fuel, energy, supplies and materials. He stated

“Consumer inflation has jumped to 7.9 percent over the past year which represents the sharpest spike since 1982. Until the federal government gets control of this inflationary cycle, we must expect even higher prices to come.”

The mayor gave some year to date increases that the city has seen in purchasing needed supplies.

“In January and February of last year we paid gasoline prices of $2.39 per gallon and this year we paid $3.42 per gallon. For diesel fuel last year, we paid $2.65 per gallon and this year we paid $3.95 per gallon,” Hopkins said. “Homeowners and businesses are faced with similar challenges in their daily lives.”

Hopkins called on the General Assembly leadership to assist cities and towns with additional state aid to be used for taxpayer relief from the millions of federal resources not yet allocated by them.

Hopkins identified numerous financial challenges his administration faced in formulating next year’s budget to account for many expense increases and losses of revenue.

Among them cited by the mayor were the following: the need to fund at the urging of the auditor general $7 million for several years of health insurance deficiencies that his administration inherited; an additional $1 million for claims based on historic experience; $750,000 for increased cost of garbage pick-up and tipping fees at the state landfill; $172,000 for increased rental of fire hydrants from the City of Providence; $138,000 for the costs of this year’s primary and general elections; $1.466 million for contracted employee obligations and step increases; $650,000 for increase health insurance costs; an increase in debt service of $1.7 million to pay the interest for capital projects including new this year an additional $1.2 million for Cranston school projects; $1.3 million in loss state aid under the longstanding distressed community formula

Mayor Hopkins noted that even with using approximately $19 million in taxpayer relief from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), that a modest 2.85 percent increase in property taxes would be necessary to finance the city’s expected spending plan. No other increases in any taxes or fees are proposed by Hopkins.

“Over the last three years we did not include any increase in local taxes in those budgets” Hopkins said.

“While our residents benefited by those decisions, we must now acknowledge that the increased costs of our governmental obligations have continued to rise over that same period,” Hopkins said. “However prudent the spending was, we cannot expect to rely on the same limited pool of local dollars for increased expenditures that continue to rise.”

The mayor gave some examples that were looked at on the impact of the modest increase on several homes around Cranston: A three-bedroom colonial in Edgewood will see an increase of $127 in taxes; in Garden City a three-bedroom ranch will see an increase of $138 in taxes; a duplex in the Stadium area will have taxes also increased by $127; in Western Cranston, a four-bedroom colonial reviewed would see an increase of $209.

“No one likes to recommend an increase in property taxes, but it is the responsible action at this time. I am sure there will be pot shots coming from politicians on this nominal tax increase. My question to them is where are you going to cut to eliminate the increase?” Hopkins said.

“Some will try to score political points, but do they want to cut schools, defund the police, eliminate recreation programs or senior services?” asked Hopkins.

“This budget reflects my sincere commitment to all the taxpayers to keep Cranston moving

Forward,” Hopkins said.

“Cranston, on my watch, will stay a top-rated community with strong financial management and effective city services,” Hopkins said.

The City Charter requires the chief executive to propose a budget by April 1 of each year and the City Council has until May 15 to adopt it. City Council members will begin a series of Finance Committee meetings this week to review the departmental budgets.

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