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Council Approves Budget, Creates Fund to Revive Middle School Sports and Music

Taxes won't go up and a reserve fund has been setup to possibly bring back middle school sports and music.

The Cranston City Council on Monday approved a $262.8 million budget for fiscal 2015 that leaves Mayor Allan W. Fung's proposed zero tax increase intact and adds a contingency fund to bring middle school sports and music back to Cranston Schools.

School officials are disappointed the City Council did not respond to their requests for an additional $3 million to begin replacing its old bus fleet and beef up security at school buildings.

Still, the council's decision to set aside $500,000 in reserve for a contingency fund to reestablish middle school sports and music is a positive sign for the beleaguered district, which is crawling out from under the weight of a legal agreement that had them repaying back the city millions after a failed Carolouo lawsuit several years ago. 

That same agreement forced the district to operate lean, forsaking numerous programs and initiatives as it followed the Basic Education Plan while making payments to the city.

The budget for next year includes the forgiveness of the last $1.2 million repayment, which liberates the district from the binds of the BEP but poses unique new challenges, such as what programs should be restored — and when.

Here's a breakdown of the amendments (not including the school contingency fund):

EXPENDITURE INCREASES
  • $66,000 for two police cars.
  • $10,000 to increase part time library staff to $9 per hour minimum (excluding part-time pages)
  • $50,000 to fund 20 additional Head Start placements in lieu of Federal funding reductions
  • $3,000 to "modify Building Official grade and step from a 36-1 to a 32-6"
  • $6,000 to provide for incremental election year compensation for the Canvassers' Registrar (workload dramatically increases during election years)
  • $3,000 to provide election year compensation for Board of Canvassers members
  • $9,000 to provide for increase in City Council member stipend
  • $13,837 to provide for part-time inspections front desk clerk.
Councilman Don Botts was the lone nay vote on the the council stipend and Head Start additions.

"A raise should be given by changing the ordinance," Botts said of the stipend increase, which will boost the annual stipend from $1,800 to $2,800. "Many employees of the city haven't seen raises in years."

For the Head Start vote, Botts said the "state and feds keep pushing costs for their programs down to the city" and "the city shouldn't pick up the slack."

Councilman Paul Archetto was the lone nay vote for the $13,837 for the part-time inspections front desk clerk.

Those additions were balanced by reductions in the following categories:

EXPENDITURE REDUCTIONS
  • $15,000 from the City Council budget, specifically the "Orders of the City Council" line item.
  • $43,070 from the police budget "to transfer police impact fees to the general fund to partially offset police station rent increase."
  • $26,255 to adjust the budget to reflect the timing of a new police chief (a two month salary savings as the department is run by the State Police)
  • $41,277 to reduce the budget for timing of hiring of a new police major.
  • $6,500 to reduce the Public Works claims budget from $16,500 to $10,000.
  • $6,500 to reduce the Fire Department claims budget (same as above)
  • $7,635 to increase general fund revenue for transfer of the fiscal 2014 mooring fee fund balance.
  • $4,600 to recognize fiscal 2015 mooring fees into the general fund.
A measure to slash parks and recreation playground attendant wages by $10,000 was rejected as council members felt it was too important for area children that attend camp and the summer teens who work there.

Another amendment occurred in the capital budget. The City Council opted to transfer $100,000 out of the $2 million reserved for infrastructure improvements and divert it into residential sidewalk repairs.

Because the bottom line of the budget has changed by a mere $12,000, Cranston residents should still see no tax increase — the third year in a row.

And it includes a provision that forgives the school district's last $1.3 million debt reduction payment, finally clearing the way for Cranston Schools to be liberated from the binds of a consent order and the Basic Education Plan, putting to rest a lengthy saga that began years ago after the district lost a Caroulo lawsuit and was forced to repay the city millions.

The budget is a reflection of a major turnaround of the city's finances thanks to collaboration between the city, unions, the school district and economic growth, Fung said, and the lack of a tax increase yet again comes as the city's bond rating just ticked upwards and the city is poised to fully fund its annual pension and other post-employment benefit payments next year.

Notable is the fact the council did not change the school's $140 million appropriation from the city, though council members might pressure the School Committee to implement specific programs that were cut after the Caruolo suit, such as the gifted program and middle school sports.

Janice Ruggieri May 14, 2014 at 10:31 AM
what they actually did was to place a reserve on any funds left over from the special education outside tuition reserve fund. IF there is any funding left over in this category it will be earmarked as seed money for programming. they did not put 500K in a reserve fund. There is a special education outside tuition reserve fund in the amount of $535K that is held to offset overages in the line item budget. If any funds remain in this account for this year only a separate account will hold it for programs.
Mary Connelly May 14, 2014 at 12:18 PM
What does that last sentence mean? The leftover will be put in a separate account?
Don Botts May 14, 2014 at 01:52 PM
For those that were not in attendance at the budget adoption meeting, the school department is projecting a surplus of $3.5 million. $1.3 million of that will go to repaying the debt to the city for FY14, leaving a $2.2 million surplus. The school dept. wants to apply any surplus to their rainy day fund deficit. The city's Director of Finance is still of the opinion that would leave the school dept. with a small surplus. The city's Director of Finance also stated that if the schools have a surplus, any special education bills submitted to the city to be paid via the special education contingency fund will be sent back. The schools can use whatever surplus they have to pay those bills. Year to date, there is about $500K in the special education contingency fund. Any money left will be transferred via the general fund into the new music and sports reserve account. This money will be there waiting to be used for music and sports programs when the school committee finishes studying and planning for this.
Janice Ruggieri May 14, 2014 at 04:02 PM
The School Committee has not made any decisions on any surplus because our budget was not approved until the City Council meeting on Monday. The budget that was approved was not the budget that we submitted and we need to make adjustments for that. The CFO of the School Department did mention that we would be looking to create a "rainy day fund" at some point but there has been no decisions made yet. We do not have an official surplus as we are still in this school year and our figures have not been audited.
Bob May 14, 2014 at 07:40 PM
Earth to the School Committee...Welcome to the real world...Live with it !!!!!!!!!!!!!! like the rest of us have to do every freakin day

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