The Block Island Times

Town Council refines department budgets

One more session on April 2
By Lars Trodson | Mar 25, 2014

Members of the Town Council continued to pore over departmental budget requests at its work session on Monday, March 24, trying to tease out savings wherever they could.

The council took a look at the budgets for town administration ($1,171,933); finance department ($304,239); fire and rescue ($287,290); police department ($675,969); town highways and maintenance ($438,862); state roads ($419,024); harbors department ($508,035); building officials ($202,508); recreation department ($364,842); library department ($466,009); technology ($154,635); boards and commissions ($170,246); community projects and support ($336,502).

The council has previously discussed several other departments, including the school and fire and rescue. The council plans to meet with the water and sewer departments and have a more thorough discussion about capital projects at the next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, April 2 (7 p.m. at Town Hall). After that final work session, the council will approve their budget and then schedule a public hearing.

During the opening discussion on municipal administrative costs, First Warden Kim Gaffett mentioned that if the members of the council were predisposed to either raising or lowering their own salaries, this was the time to do it. “It can only be changed in an election year according to our charter,” said Gaffett, who added she was not making a proposal either way. The reason that salaries are changed only in an election year is that those voting on the new salaries will only be affected by the pay between July and November. Total wages for the five councilors is $32,500.

Other line items discussed in that specific budget were the salaries for the town manager ($100,940); four town clerks and an as-yet to be hired parttime clerk (($131,716); legal consultant fees (($135,000) and insurance premiums ($260,700).

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said that the new part-time clerk, slated for 10 hours a week, “will allow us to do more cross-training, which is important in a small office.”

As for the $260,000 spent on insurance, Councilor Norris Pike asked if there was “any law against self-insuring as a municipality?”

Finance Director Amy Land said there wasn’t, which caused Pike to consider whether it might be less expensive. Land said she would look into the matter, but noted that if the town changed its policy it would not be for this year.

While discussing the police department budget, Carlone said he had budgeted for a total of six officers during the summer (the police department currently has four, including the chief), and three community service officers (CSOs).

Carlone said the CSOs more than pay for themselves because their primary duties are parking tickets and moped-related policing.

“They’re not going to be doing traffic stops?” asked Second Warden Ken Lacoste, and Carlone said they would not be, but added that “We deploy them in many different ways.”

During the analysis of the highways and maintenance budget, Councilor Pike initiated a discussion on how to perhaps save money and implement better road care. The line item for “road materials” was recommended at $30,000, but Pike indicated that too much of that was being paid for the freight costs of bringing over the materials in “dribs and drabs” on the ferry. As an example, about 14 or 15 yards of road material can be brought over on a standard truck, while it would take about 500 yards of material to cover the parking lot at Town Hall.

“I’ve talked to [Highways Supervisor] Mike [Shea] about bringing the materials over by the bargeload,” said Pike. “That would eliminate the boat costs.” When asked where the bulk materials could be stored, Pike said he had considered some options, including the transfer station, but that would have to be worked out. Town Manager Nancy Dodge said the transfer station was a viable option because the town owned the property.

Shea was asked if there would be a storage problem, to which he replied, “I’d make room for it.” Pike and Shea both said that there isn’t enough road material on the island for proper repair, including the island’s many dirt roads. “Dirt roads are part of our rural character,” said Pike.

One of the biggest jumps in salary mentioned last night was for Harbormaster Steve Land, but Land proved to be a special exception. Last year, Police Chief Carlone recommended that Land receive training so that he could perform official police duties. Land, who is in training at the Police Academy now, will receive $65,509 in 2015, up from $48,601 this year.

“He’ll be able to make arrests, fill out reports and the whole nine yards,” said Lacoste. “Everything will stand up in court.”

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