City of Newport Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Review
This past June the Newport City Council approved a budget and tax rates for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2012. It almost was a non-event. There was little controversy, the workshops and open hearings leading up to the final approval were sparsely attended and there was little public discussion by the Council members.
The only matter that received any serious attention was the School Department’s attempt to get the Council to agree to increased support, instead of the what has become traditional level funding over the past several years. In what has become a regular annual event, the School Superintendent and members of the School Committee pleaded for increased funding to make up for reduced federal and state support. The Council listened politely and silently and then voted for level funding. The only speaker in opposition to the School’s request was me, pointing out that each year for the past several years the School Committee requested increased funding, each year their request was denied and each year they closed out their budget with a surplus in excess of the increase that they had requested.
In most other matters the budget was an excellent one and Finance Director, Laura Sitrin, and City Manager, Jane Howington, are to be commended. Amortization schedules for the city’s pension and medical benefit liabilities were fully funded, controllable expenses were level-funded from the preceding fiscal year, all non-controllable expenses were fully funded and one-time versus ongoing revenues and expenses were closely balanced, avoiding negative impacts on future budgets.
It was disappointing that the Council’s work on a strategic plan for Newport was not completed in time to have any appreciable impact on this year’s budget. We can only hope that the priorities established in that strategic plan are carried over into future budgets, providing the financial direction to achieve Newport’s future growth and development.
The final rate approvals included a 2.5% increase in property taxes and no increase in water/sewer rates. The water/sewer rate leveling is a temporary hiatus and the City already has filed with the state for future rate increases. The property tax rate increase is modest compared to what is happening elsewhere in Rhode Island and reflects a firm effort to hold the line on controllable expenses.
Given all of the above, ALN will not hold a financial forum this year, as we feel that there are not sufficient high impact issues of concern to warrant such. We, however, will continue to monitor the City’s finances and report on any developments that deserve airing.