NEWPORT CITY – It’s nearly the end of the year and that can mean only one thing: Time to start preparing budgets that governing boards will ask voters to approve on Town Meeting Day in March. Monday night, Newport Manager John Ward, Jr. presented the city council with a budget of $4,256,499.36. The current budget is $4,375,450.58.
A memo Ward presented to the council states the municipal property tax rate would increase by $.0125 to $1.1405 per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is $1.1281.
“One could claim this a level funded budget as far as the municipal tax rate is concerned,”said Ward. He said the city assessor, Spenser Potter, told him that the common level appraisal has increased a little. “That should help our educational tax.”
Alderman Richard Baraw asked each department head what, if anything, he could cut in his department.
“My budget is bare bones,” said Police Chief J. Paul Duquette. “We cut the part-time budget as much as we could.”
The capital budget includes two new cruisers for the police department. One of the old cruises has 125,000 miles and the other has 109,000. The one with a 109,000 miles needed $3,000 in repairs this year. Duquette tried to get rid of it last year but it’s replacement was denied. “I think it was a mistake, but we’re getting through it,” said Duquette. “We got six more months to eke out of this one.”
It’s easy to say a mistake was in the budget, Ward said. “What we’re trying to do is put the minimum budget forward to get the job done,” said Ward. “Sometimes we cut things we don’t like to cut, but we want to keep the tax rate down; that’s what we do.”
Ward told the council that cuts in the part-time budget may change the way the police department operates. The discussion led to a brief exchange between Duquette and Mayor Paul Monette.
“For the size community, we have a $931,000 budget,” Monette said.
“Cheap,” answered Duquette.
“Really?” questioned Monette. “For 4,500 people, that’s cheap?”
“For this size department,” answered Duquette.
“You’re asking different questions,” said Ward. “For the size of the department we have, I think we have a pretty efficient budget. For the size of the community, it’s a burden.”
Duquette also reminded the council that other communities with a similar population are not the county seat. He said those communities don’t have a hospital, a 1,000-student high school, a courthouse, public service offices and Section 8 housing. “That’s what drives the size of the police department,” Duquette said.
Monette said he was trying to get answers so he can explain it to people who look at the budget.
Ward said the fire department has the least conservative budget. That department has an increase of 10.4 percent or about $12,000. Ward said he only budgeted $16,500 for salaries for the volunteer firefighters.
Ward said he made several cuts in the Recreation Department including a pedestrian bridge in Gardner Park. The bridge would have helped improve the Recreation Department’s facilities, said Director Andy Cappello. Cappello is also concerned about security at the park because vandals damaged park property three times in the last couple of weeks.
He is looking into different types of security systems.
The bleachers need to be replaced because they don’t meet current standards, Cappello said. The playground also needs upgrades so it will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Little was said about the Public Works Department budget. Ward reduced the over-time winter maintenance budget from $18,000 in 2011-2012 to $12,000 in the 2012-2013 budget.
In a memo to the council, Tom Bernier, director of Public Works, said he supports his budget but he is concerned that the different departments may be setting themselves up for failure because they can't budget for every eventuality.