Woonsocket Call

Cumberland mayor’s budget includes more school money

Plan represents ‘maximum amount’ town can give, says schools chief

- By ERICA MOSER emoser@woonsocket­call.com

CUMBERLAND – Mayor Bill Murray has introduced his budget for fiscal year 2017-18, and the amount he’s giving to the schools will bring the down the number of staff cuts Superinten­dent Bob Mitchell projected in March.

Mitchell brought a $66,040,447 budget – which included cuts of 34.5 positions – before the School Committee in March. Refusing to accept that many cuts, the School Committee sent to Town Hall an unbalanced budget of $67,379,650.

Murray’s school budget is higher than Mitchell’s at $66,153,486, which includes both the maximum 4 percent increase in local appropriat­ion as well as $385,764 for leases the town is assuming.

“I took very strongly the parents’ comments and the students’ comments,” the mayor said, referring to those who at Town Council meetings gave emotional pleas for increased school spending.

Murray’s general fund budget is $97,581,988, a 3.4 percent increase over last year’s budget that has 67.8 percent of the increase benefiting the schools. The budget will first come before the Town Council on May 17, and on two dates after that.

“We are getting the maximum amount that we can get from the town, for the first time I believe in a long time, which we appreciate,”

Mitchell said. “We are getting an additional $1.3 [million] in state aid. The mayor is also providing some energy money savings to us, plus he’s agreed to help with some master leases that will save us some money too.”

On the energy money savings, he was referring to the town’s plan to give the schools roughly $300,000 from a forthcomin­g rebate on street lights. Town Finance Director Jason Parmelee said when he receives the rebate, he’ll write a budget amendment, which would bring the school budget to approximat­ely $66.45 million.

As for the $1.3 million increase in state aid, Cumberland initially saw a bump of nearly $860,000 in Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget but recently learned it would be receiving $450,000 more on top of that.

But Mitchell noted that because of level-funding in previous years, the district is still behind and that cuts remain “unavoidabl­e.” He said the district has already put some positions back in the budget but declined to make which ones public just yet.

Saying the Cumberland School Department has left no stone unturned, Mitchell said of finding ways to save positions, “I think that we have pretty much exhausted all the potential revenue that we can possibly think of.” He said the district is still looking at cutting “approximat­ely 15-plus positions.”

The town is paying for the additional $685,000 or so it’s giving to the schools – the $385,764 for leases and the estimated $300,000 rebate – by using an additional $600,000 of surplus funds over last year.

The last fiscal year ended with about $14 million in surplus for the town, Parmelee said, and the town is using about $2 million in the fiscal year 2017-18 budget, up from $1.4 million last year.

Parmelee noted that per town ordinance, the surplus must be at least 10 percent of budgeted general fund expenditur­es, which would be $9.7 million this year. Murray pointed out that maintainin­g a surplus above 10 percent will help the town with its bond ratings, which in turn will give it better borrowing rates.

The School Department surplus is estimated to be $2.7 million at the end of the current fiscal year, according to Parmelee. It is using $450,000 of the surplus to go toward healthcare costs that came in over budget.

Moving forward, Murray will be putting together a “blue ribbon committee” to study where the schools might be able to save money on healthcare and energy costs.

“I don’t want to have this look like a one-time fix,” he said.

Outside of the schools, the municipal budget is $31,428,502, up $980,000 from last year. The bulk of the increase comes from contractua­lly-obligated employee raises and debt service. The $400,000 increase in debt service is for constructi­on of the new public safety complex.

Outside of employee benefits and debt service, there’s only a $58,000 increase in town operating costs over last year, Parmelee said. Murray said that if the Town Council were to decrease municipal spending, services would have to be cut.

The municipal budget includes an additional three police officers.

“One of my biggest complaints as a mayor has been speeding in the town,” he said. He wants Cumberland to have the reputation that North Attleboro has of not tolerating speeders.

Parmelee added that he expects revenues from Municipal Court to rise because of this.

Elsewhere in the budget, the Haunted Hill line item has been eliminated, as it will now be privately run. Projected summer camp revenues are down, which Murray attributes to increased competitio­n in the area.

Murray and Parmelee are projecting the maximum 4 percent tax levy increase next April, and they’re estimating a property tax increase from $15.21 to $15.93.

The two public hearings on the budget will be at Joseph L. McCourt Middle School on May 17 and 31. The Town Council will vote on the budget at Town Hall on June 7.

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