Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 04-01-2021

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | APRIL 1-7, 2021 WOONSOCKET / LETTER 13 viewpoint. "This was not a standard year for our finance departments in any respect. State, federal and local rev- enues were uncertain for most of the year, expenditures were often driven by situational responses to the pan- demic, federal and state paperwork increased exponentially and we had to work through pandemic-related absences in our workforce," she said. On Monday, Baldelli-Hunt told reporters the city had moved past the days of "us versus them" budgeting between the municipal and school departments and that Chamberland and Peryea work closely throughout the year. However, those amicable relations could soon come to an end. Though it's unclear yet whether state law will allow it, Baldelli-Hunt said she's looking into possibly requesting the WED use its surplus to offset the local education contribution for the upcoming budget year. Such a move would require an exemption from the "maintenance of effort" law that requires the city to match its previous contributions. "There's been discussion through the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns as far as what cities and towns can use to offset (the local contribution) in the 2022 budget to relieve the mandate that we have for maintenance of effort," she said. Baldelli-Hunt said she's not sure yet whether the request is possible under the particular requirements governing Woonsocket as a distressed commu- nity, but that it might offer a "feasible and fair" approach to the budget process. "Certainly it would help to give some relief to the taxpayers of the city, because a $2 million surplus is significant," she said. The request would not be without precedent. The early days of the pan- demic proved a financial boon for many local school districts, with lower distance learning costs and fewer employee health expenses creating unexpected savings through much of 2020. Last month, the Pawtucket School Committee agreed to hand over $1.6 million of a projected $2 million surplus to the city to pay down school-related bond debt after it was revealed the city was facing a $2.6 million budget gap on the municipal side. However, Paul Bourget, chair- man of the Woonsocket School Committee, argued that's not the case in Woonsocket, pointing out to The Breeze on Monday the city also posted a budget surplus last year. "There's no evidence that they're losing money. There's no evidence that anyone's losing money," he said. Bourget said it would be irrespon- sible to put last year's school budget surplus toward the city's contribution when the department is still figuring out the financial impact of the pan- demic for the current year. Peryea told the School Committee last week the WED is currently projecting a $254,000 surplus for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, but that expenses have continued to increase toward pre- pandemic levels as employees resume using their health benefits for elective surgeries and other procedures. Bourget also pointed out the WED is currently in contract negotia- tions with the Woonsocket Teachers Guild for a new, three-year contract. The previous contract came about after a grueling, yearlong negotia- tion with the understanding the city would increase its local contribu- tion by $250,000 in both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. Last year's expected increase never took place, and Bourget said the department will likely need its surplus to fund the new contract. "The city can ask for relief, we're not expecting to give it. Because we're going to need it," he said. Also complicating the issue is an expected $70 million in federal stimu- lus money headed to the city later this year. While both the city and the school departments are expected to receive at least $30 million, Baldelli- Hunt said they're still waiting for the particulars of how and when those funds can be spent. As a result, she said, she's considering invoking her executive authority to postpone the municipal budget process until they can get clarification from the state's congressional delegates. "We'd like to know those answers first," she said. Per the city charter, the mayor is required to submit a budget proposal at least 50 days prior to the start of the new fiscal year, a date that typical- ly falls in mid-May. The City Council usually votes on the new budget by July 1. BUDGET From Page One Increase fire staffing in N. Smithfield Often many residents of North Smithfield wonder why it takes a fire department rescue vehicle a while to show up at their residence or busi- ness. This is because the calls for ser- vice outweigh the manpower on duty each shift. Many times, outside rescues respond in town along with outside fire apparatus, "mutual aid." This has become problematic for the residents and businesses in town. Having only five firefighters on each shift manning two stations is very dangerous. The town encom- passes 30 square miles, major high- ways running through, new business- es, many new housing developments, and a large increase in residents. When is the town going to recog- nize the need for an additional mini- mum two firefighters per shift to man another rescue or fire engine? The town doesn't need to waste money on a political fire study. The time and need for better rescue and fire protec- tion is now, not tomorrow. DENIS LAPIERRE North Smithfield Don't miss the SPRINGTIME HOME & GARDEN BUSINESS DIRECTORY in next week's editions on April 7th and April 8th A great resource for finding Home Improvement Professionals near you. 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