On Wednesday, April 27, the Bristol Town Council held a public hearing of the provisional 2011-2012 budget before a thin crowd of about 20 residents -- many of whom are themselves town employees.
The provisional budget is tight, but for many taxpayers, not tight enough. It calls for a spending increase of $2,126,613 over 2010-2011, about half of which is earmarked for the regional school district. While several categories are reflecting nominal decreases, most are projecting increases, ranging from a modest $1500 increase allocated to Human Services, to a substantial $602,000 projected increase in debt service costs.
The only department with a 7-figure budget to see a decrease is the Department of Public Works, which should expect to run on about $200,000 less in 2011-2012. It was that department that was the first to come under scrutiny when the floor was opened to public comment, with resident Armand Bilotti questioning the savings associated with the controversial plan to privatize the town’s trash collection services. With the projected cost to the town of about $260,000 offset by savings at the transfer station, vehicle maintenance and fuel, and the plan to leave positions unfilled, preliminary estimates are projecting savings of over $370,000 in the first year alone.
That’s not the whole picture, though, according to Councilor Mary Parella, who stressed that the first-year figures are misleading, pointing out that, “It’s the 5-year savings projected at $2.4 million that are the important numbers to look at.”
The town will retain the trash packers, as they are treating this year as an experiment, to see if the savings materialize as projected.
“If this doesn’t work out we’ll go back to picking up our own trash,” Councilor David Barboza said. “But it’s worked in 35 of 39 [Rhode Island] towns already.”
Resident Jeff Luiz spoke to the new economic reality we are living in, nationally and locally. Speaking specifically to the projected increase in the Capital Purchases budget from $300,000 to $500,000, he asserted that “…when you talk about adding to capital budget, this environment might be a reason to say no.”
Council Chairman Ken Marshall pointed out the many capital projects the town has been funding, at least in part, in recent years, from the library to the new fire station, to the proposed animal shelter. These projects were greenlighted by the electorate in referendums, and it is the mandate of the Town Council to see that funds for such projects are duly allocated. Barboza added that they cannot realistically zero the capital purchases line item -- it’s a necessary contingency fund in the event of an emergency.
The members of the public who spoke all echoed similar sentiments: hold the line, don’t raise taxes, consider the economic climate. Resident Pete Howlett suggested that if an increase is necessary, it should be modest. He pointed specifically to the proposed animal shelter, the plans for which have been referred to as a “Cadillac” shelter, asking rhetorically “we don’t need a Cadillac – can we get away with a Ford?”
The final adoption of the budget is scheduled for next week’s Town Council meeting, Wednesday May 4 at 7 p.m. In the meantime, if you would like to review the provisional budget yourself, you can pick up a copy at the or check it out online at the official town website.