Council Meeting Update: MAY 5th Town Council hears proposed budget, debates recreation hiring
By Cynthia Drummond for the Beaver River Valley Community Association
RICHMOND — Town Council members heard a report at the May 5th remote meeting on the town’s proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget. They also considered hiring protocols for the recreation program.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon presented an overview of the new $27.7 million budget, which contains a modest property tax increase, due primarily to an increase in the town’s share of the $21 million Chariho schools budget.
The spending plan is a 3.3%, or $900,000, increase over the current budget.
Estimated revenue from property, tangible and commercial taxes will increase 2.45%, from $20.38 per $1,000 valuation to $20.88, but Kenyon said the final property tax rate will not be known until evaluations and assessments have been calculated.
“There are still some exemptions that need to be evaluated,” she said, referring to the tax exemptions the town gives to older and disabled homeowners.
Personnel costs, the result of planned salary increases, will be going up in the new budget.
“There are no new positions,” Kenyon said. “There is a planned salary increase for most employees at 2% and the police are at 2.5% [increase] per their contract. The pension has been adjusted downward as the rates came down and that saved us about $8,000.”
Health insurance will see a minor increase, under 2%, and dental insurance will decrease by 3.5%.
The town will also save about $269,000 in debt service, because one of its bonds has been paid off.
Kenyon said an additional $10,000 will be allocated to the police budget for a crisis intervention specialist, whose salary will be shared by several southern Rhode Island towns.
“That’s in collaboration with the towns in Washington County and it’s a wonderful service that has been provided to our town,” she said.
The capital improvement budget will increase by $430,000, most of which, $300,000, will be used for road work.
Voters will be asked to approve borrowing $350,000 to chlorinate the town’s water. (Most residents are served by private wells and do not use town water.)
“If we go with the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, there will be a principal forgiveness of $100,000 on that,” Kenyon said. “The debt will actually only be charged to the people who are on the water system, not every taxpayer in the town.”
Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed budget at the May 18 Town Council meeting.
Recreation Department Hiring Debated
As preparations ramp up for the town’s summer day camp, Recreation Director Sally Lambert requested that Morgan Cusumano, a longtime camp employee, be hired as Assistant Recreation Director. Lambert also asked the council to approve the hiring of four camp counselors.
In addition, council members learned that Lambert, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, is leaving her position with the town.
Council member Richard Nassaney said that since Cusumano had been with the department for several years, the town should hire her as Recreation Director to replace Lambert.
Councilor Ronald Newman agreed with Nassaney, however other councilors said the position should be publicly advertised.
Lauren Cacciola said,
“I think for transparency reasons we need to open it up, knowing this new information, we need to put it up, … so I will not be for approving.”
Newman, who works for the Rhode Island Department of Agriculture, disagreed, pointing out that it was common practice to promote employees without publicly posting the positions.
“If you work at the state, if someone has someone that did a good job the previous year, and we know the job that they did, we would just continue on,” he said. “My vote won’t change because I’ve known that Morgan has done a great job. I’ve heard nothing but compliments about her, so I don’t see the advantage of not giving it, moving on and hiring an assistant director.”
Council President Nell Carpenter said she had concerns about promoting Cusumano to director, but Town Administrator Karen Pinch reminded the council that the item on the agenda referred only to hiring Cusumano as Assistant Director and therefore, the position of director could not be discussed.
Carpenter said she would have preferred to advertise both positions.
“It is imperative, optically, we advertise for paid positions as a municipality,” she said. “I requested this two years ago. So, I understand that we are in the lurch right now, I understand that, so I will go with the suggestion of the administrator at this time, but going forward, we cannot show favoritism for people who have participated in camp before. We must open this up for people to apply. We must.”
Asked whether the town was legally required to advertise the open positions, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said there was no ordinance requiring advertising, but that the existing ordinance could be amended to require it.
Nassaney said with the summer program ready to go, it would be important to have someone in place who was already familiar with the camp.
“You have people that are already cohesive and they work well together,” he said. “Why disrupt that? You want to do something, you want to change something, then you do it next season. This season’s already set. It’s ready to go.”
Council Vice President James Palmisciano agreed with the argument for continuity in the program, suggesting the town hire Cusumano for the Assistant Director position but he also urged Town Administrator Karen Pinch to try to interview her for the position.
“It satisfies both the business continuity and the transparency,” he said.
The council voted unanimously to approve hiring Cusumano as Assistant Director of the summer camp and to hire the four counselors.
In other business, Pinch said the Town Hall was expected to fully re-open on May 17. Public Works Director Scott Barber is completing the modifications necessary for safe, in-person transactions.
“I think everyone’s looking forward to not having to run back and forth to the window and just having some social interaction with the public as well, as I’m sure the public will be happy to be able to come in also,” she said.
Next Town Council Meeting will be Tuesday, May 18th 2021 at 6:00pm
To join by zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82802362423
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