‘Unrealistic,’ Burrillville budget would see tax increase, $2 million more in spending

Town Manager Michael Wood speaks to Zoom attendees about Burrillville's proposed 2021 budget.

BURRILLVILLE – Town Manager Michael Wood has recommended a $52.5 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but noted that some $1.5 million in state revenue remains in question, making current projections “unrealistic.”

Wood recommended Town Council members pass a budget by the Town Charter-mandated deadline of June 15, as usual.

But councilors likely won’t finalize the fiscal plan until the state budget is passed, and the wait could extend through the end of the General Assembly session.

“We really don’t have good numbers that we can count on to fix the budget,” Wood told councilors at a virtual meeting on Thursday, May 21.  “That is a big number in relation to the budget we have.”

“My recommendation is to go slow,” he added.

According to preliminary budget documents presented to the council last week, town spending in 2021 would increase by roughly $2 million over the previous fiscal year. More than half of the increase would be reflected through the School Department budget, and come through an expected $1.2 million increase in state aid.

“When you talk about the revenue uncertainties that we have it’s almost impossible to give a good budget,” Wood said. “What we have in front of us is completely unrealistic.”

If adopted as is, the budget would result in a tax increase of $106 for the average single family home valued at $273,904. Vehicle taxes would be lowered by around $57 on average as a result of the state phase-out.

Last week’s meeting, held via Zoom, served as a public hearing on the fiscal plan and resident Peggy Dudley recommended some measures to address potential shortfalls in light of the current pandemic.

“Until this economy gets back up and running the tax collections are going to be low,” Dudley warned, recommending that the council implement a 1 percent discount for taxpayers who pay their full bill in the first quarter.  “That gets cash into the town in July, when we’re probably going to need it.”

Dudley questioned some of the proposed allocations to events that may not happen as the state works to curb the spread of Covid-19, such as the Burrillville Arts Festival, and to services that are currently shut down, like the Glocester Senior Center.

“I just can’t see throwing the full amount at them,” Dudley said. “The money can go back in the budget next year.”

Councilor Raymond Trinque asked Wood when state officials might provide additional budget guidance, noting that the General Assembly has not been meeting since the statewide shut down in March.

“I understand what you’re doing, and that looks good for now,” Trinque said. “When are they going to start doing the things they need to do to help us?”

Wood noted that state legislative committees have recently resumed meetings.

“At some point, hopefully within the next couple of weeks, they will come up with recommendations,” he said.

But the town manager warned that Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget is dependent on a federal government bail out of between $800 and 900 billion over the next two years, to make up for the loss of revenue from closure of Rhode Island’s casinos.

“That’s a huge loss,” Wood said.

The Burrillville Town Council will meet again on Thursday, May 28 starting at 6 p.m. to hold a public hearings on the proposed capital improvement and School Department budgets. Documents related to the proposals can be found here and a link to attend via Zoom or instruction to join by telephone can be found here.

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