$12 million town budget passesSewer and beach pavilion bonds approved
It was fairly smooth sailing at this year’s town financial meeting.
Town voters approved the recommended $12,141,327 fiscal year 2014 budget. Island taxpayers will contribute $8,612,958 — the maximum 4 percent tax levy increase allowed by state law. The town meeting was held at the Block Island School on Monday, May 6. More than 100 residents attended the meeting.
There will also be upgrades to the town sewer system and to the town beach pavilion performed this year.
Town voters approved a $240,000 bond for renovating the beach pavilion — this will add $8 in taxes for a home valued at $1 million. The town also plans to apply for a grant in the fall that could provide an additional $200,000 to renovate the building.
Town voters also approved a total of $1 million in bonds for sewer system upgrades, separated into two bonds. A $200,000 bond for sewer system upgrades will be paid for by taxpayers — which would add $6.40 in property taxes for a home valued at $1 million for a 20 year period.
A second bond for $800,000 will be paid for by sewer rate payers. Town Finance Director Amy Land explained that there are four tiers of sewer ratepayers. The lowest tier would see a yearly increase of $72 in sewer bills, and the highest tier would see an increase of $300 in sewer bills.
Taxpayers who are also sewer ratepayers will pay for both bonds.
Another bond, also for $1 million, was approved by taxpayers on Monday. These funds will be used to build affordable housing units on the island and the Housing Board will repay the bond when the homes are sold.
Voters approved next year’s recreation budget at $352,923, a $53,541 increase in costs compared to last year.
However, two changes to the recreation budget were rejected. The debate over what kind of fertilizer to use at Heinz Field and whether to hire a new department employee took about an hour.
A recommendation to reduce the budget by $6,400, and use synthetic fertilizer on Heinz Field, instead of the currently used organic fertilizer, was not approved.
“The organic fertilizer program on Heinz Field that is dictated by the Land Trust is not cost effective,” said island resident Fred Nelson, who has been advocating for the synthetic option for more than a year. He made a similar motion at last year’s financial meeting, which passed, but the Land Trust ultimately did not allow the synthetic fertilizer to be used.
“I do not support Mr. Nelson’s motion. However, I do support synthetic fertilizer,” said Recreation Director Robbie Closter. “I do not support his motion because if this does pass, then the recreation department will be short [of funds].”
The town owns Heinz Field, but the Land Trust, which has an easement over the property, donated it to the town. The easement allows the Land Trust to decide on the type of fertilizer.
“If the town owns it, the town ought to be in charge of running it, not the Land Trust,” said island resident Verna Littlefield.
“We bought the property, we donated it, we did the community a humongous favor,” said Harold “Turtle” Hatfield, a Land Trust member. “And we’re asking for organic fertilizer.”
Also, the recreation department had proposed adding an additional employee at a cost of $28,650, but eliminating the positions of two current part-time employees.
Recreation Board Chair John Cullen explained that the budget increase would be offset due to the fact that two events planned for the spring are expected to bring in revenue to the town.
The recreation department had previously made this proposal for the added full time employee to the Town Council, which rejected it in a 2-3 vote. Town Manager Nancy Dodge said that the council had allocated in the budget money for computer software, which should free up the recreation employees enough to plan the events in the spring.
Town voters rejected the extra employee proposal in a 37-53 vote.
Slightly more than $1 million in administration costs that include a variety of town expenses, such as property and flood insurance, clerk wages and town consultant costs, were also approved.
As part of the administration budget, voters supported $12,500 towards deer management “for the purpose of reducing the deer numbers. The exact plan has not been approved yet,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett.
Deer Task Force Chair Ruth Perfido said that the task force plans to work with the Department of Environmental Management closely to solve the island’s deer problem. Other town residents provided different suggestions about reducing the deer herd.
“I don’t want to spend any money to get rid of them,” said island resident Cathy Payne. “It’s a 50-year-old problem. You’re probably not going to solve it with $12,500.”
Town voters approved $331,490 in community support funds, which includes the following:
- $10,000 to support the Senior Advisory Committee — up from an original allocation of $5,000.
Linda Spak, speaking on behalf of the committee, said the money would be used “to keep our programs running and to keep a senior coordinator that will plan programs for us.”
- The Medical Center will receive a $37,000 funding increase over last year, totaling $123,800.
Island resident Verna Littlefield said that island taxpayers should automatically be included as members of the Block Island Health Services (BIHS).
“If they don’t pass that I couldn’t support this $123,800 that they’re requesting,” said Littlefield.
Medical Center Director Barbara Baldwin said that this would require a BIHS special meeting to amend its bylaws. Membership dues for individuals are $25.
School and Library
The Block Island School received its request of $4.5 million in town support — a $71,432 increase from last year.
Library expenses will increase from last year by $42,101, totaling $468,253. The amount includes ongoing and one-time property maintenance.