To the hearings

Proposed budget includes tax increase, focuses on 'investments'

By Jacob Marrocco
Posted 4/5/17

By JACOB MARROCCO Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung presented his proposed 2017-18 budget to the City Council Friday night, saying that the next fiscal year would focus on investments" across Cranston. Fung proposed a 2.1 percent tax rate increase to help"

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To the hearings

Proposed budget includes tax increase, focuses on 'investments'


Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung presented his proposed 2017-18 budget to the City Council Friday night, saying that the next fiscal year would focus on “investments” across Cranston.

Fung proposed a 2.1 percent tax rate increase to help fund the additional contributions to education and infrastructure, among numerous other initiatives to come. The proposed budget features $10 million more than last year, a boost from $275,231,439 to $285,387,463.

“When we first came into office, we had to make drastic cuts and we still constantly watch our staffing needs,” Fung said to a small gathering inside Council chambers Friday. “But we have moved well past those tough, initial fiscal years. In order to continue to improve upon the high quality services in our city, keep our citizens safe, and upgrade our infrastructure, this next year will instead be one of investments.”

Fung mentioned some of the rising costs across the city toward the conclusion of his speech. He said that other post-employment benefits (OPEB) and city contributions to state and local pensions funds have “risen significantly,” resulting in $2 million more solely dedicated to these needs.

Fung also cited a 5 percent jump for health care costs, which amounts to more than $400,000. “The increase in severity of some claims” is why that number has soared.

The mayor also expressed frustration about the spike in garbage tipping fees, which has hit Cranston with an added $200,000 expenditure, to make upgrades at Rhode Island Resource Recovery. Fung noted he spoke out against the increase from the start, two years ago at RIRR.

“I’m really aggravated by this, because we have to ask why R.I. Resource Recovery is raising our rates, but then Governor [Gina] Raimondo is raiding millions from their surplus for her own state budget,” Fung said. “So while we have to pay for it, you will bet I will be very vocal on this issue any chance I get.”

While those aforementioned rates are climbing, Fung closed his speech acknowledging that sewer fees would remain stable this year, “thanks in part to our finance team finding significant savings through the refinancing of old debts.” The fee for single-family home is $458.94.

The schools were a significant focus of the mayor’s address

The city added an extra $700,000 in funding to schools to continue all-day kindergarten following reduced state funding. In addition, Fung proposed the city invest $5 million in bonds to upgrade school infrastructure. That figure is part of $20 million in bonds dedicated to various improvements over the next few years, which led to a $600,000 increase in the debt service portion of the budget.

The separate school budget, in total, would increase from $149,529,530 to $154,857,265.

Other renovations would come in the form of a $2 million bond infusion to parks and recreation. Fixing the “run down” playgrounds at Rhodes Elementary School and Hope Highlands Middle School would be one top project. Fung also noted the need for fresh turf at Cranston Stadium, which hosts numerous local and state sporting events and the Bristol Fourth of July Drum and Bugle Corps Competition.

Fung also proposed doubling the amount of roads to be repaved, amounting to a $4 million bond commitment for 2017-18 and the same number in 2018-19. “From Edgewood to Ridgewood, we are going to be making our neighborhood streets safe and smooth,” Fung added.

Senior services would also see some help from the bonds. The mayor proposed purchasing two more Transvans, a popular form of transportation among the elderly and/or disabled. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center would also be replaced.

The mayor also said that the city’s library system would receive a boost as well. Mayor Fung proposed an additional $155,000 to increase security and “cultivate [the] diverse programs” the award-winning Cranston libraries have to offer.

It was just one of a litany of other investments Fung offered. Public works would also receive some bond money towards maintaining and improving the department’s vehicles and tools following the brutal winter.

Other commitments would be to improving police and fire equipment and vehicles, as well as providing an extra $50,000 for maintaining trees and clearing up any entanglements around power lines.

“So, looking at the big picture, we have a duty to keep growing our city, and never get comfortable when times are good,” Fung said. “We will continue to build on our success in growing the commercial and residential tax base. We can, and always must improve the services our residents demand from their local government.”

Fung noted earlier in the day that the city is moving forward with its Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which would be eliminated across the board should President Donald Trump’s initial budget pass through Congress. Just over $1 million goes toward CDBG program projects in the proposed budget.

“Not sure yet where it stands,” Fung said. “Haven’t heard from our community development yet. We put it in the budget as they’re proposed so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

City Council Vice President and Finance Committee Chairman Michael Favicchio announced the dates and times for budget hearings after the address. All hearings will take place at 7 p.m. in Council chambers on the following dates, accompanied by the departments that will be heard:

Monday, April 10:

Building inspections, parks and recreation, city-provided health insurance and public libraries

Wednesday, April 12: Economic development, executive, law department, insurance claims and risk management and personnel.

Monday, April 17:

Fire department and fire alarm, police department, animal control and harbor master.

Wednesday, April 19:

Public works (highway maintenance, building maintenance, engineering, fleet maintenance, bureau of traffic safety, refuse and care of trees), sewer enterprise fund, planning and capital budget and boards and commissions.

Thursday, April 27:

School department and school health insurance

The first meeting was held after press time on Wednesday, April 5, and focused on the Finance Department and Cranston Community Action Program (CCAP).

Favicchio said that the meeting on Wednesday, May 3, would be for amendments with the potential budget adoption meeting taking place on Monday, May 8.


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