Elorza signs $770 million budget; tax bills to go out soon

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council gave final passage to a tax-and-spending plan on Tuesday and sent it to Mayor Jorge Elorza, who immediately signed it.

The $770 million budget resulted from a compromise struck last week between the council and Elorza, who was threatening to veto the plan with the fiscal year already underway. He said the compromise will allow the city to avoid major cash flow problems.

Tax bills will be sent out as soon as Wednesday, according to city finance director Larry Mancini. The new residential tax rate is $24.56 per $1,000 of assessed value, with a 40% homestead exemption for people who live in their properties.

The tax assessor will automatically apply the 40% to homeowners who were already getting the owner-occupied tax rate under the previous structure, according to a city spokesman. New homeowners would need to apply for the homestead exemption by March 15.

The vote on the budget was 11 to 4, with Councilman David Salvatore joining East Side Councilors Helen Anthony, Nirva LaFortune and Seth Yurdin in voting no.

“This budget builds on the responsible budgeting practices that have put our city on sound financial footing in recent years and continues investments to create opportunities for our youth, supports major arts and culture programming residents and visitors enjoy, and reflects our strong commitment to improving schools during this critical time,” Elorza said in a statement after signing the budget into law.

The council declined to include some pay raises and spending bumps requested by Elorza, but did increase funding to arts, culture and tourism by $225,000 as part of the compromise. The council eliminated some vacant positions, but restored the funding for the vacant job of fire chief after initially cutting it from the plan passed by the Finance Committee.

Council President Sabina Matos said now that the funding is restored, she hopes the city hires a chief this year.

“We have been putting that money in every year and there has not been a fire chief hired,” Matos said. “So we felt why are we putting the money in there if they’re not using it?”

She said council leaders restored the funding after hearing concerns from the city and the firefighters union.

Asked Tuesday if he would now focus on hiring a fire chief this year, Elorza said he would consider it but is “comfortable” with the way the fire department is being run now.

“For different reasons we haven’t found the right fire chief for our department,” Elorza said. “But that’s perfectly fine at this point.” He said the department is being run “as strong as it’s ever been.”

It’s still unclear how much exactly Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, who also serves as acting fire chief, will be paid under the new budget plan. The council cut the line item for his $161,923 salary by nearly $40,000, because the council never agreed to a recommendation made by the salary review commission in 2017.

But Elorza’s administration hasn’t yet said how much Paré will actually get paid. Press Secretary Victor Morente said the budget brings Paré’s salary category down to a range of $115,146 to $125,878.

“The administration will work to ensure that he is properly compensated for all of his duties and responsibilities,” Morente said Monday.

Matos said the council is still aiming to get to a two-tiered tax structure next year, after lawmakers at the State House nixed a plan to do so this year. The proposal, which would have lowered the homestead exemption to 28% for values above $350,000, particularly concerned East Siders.

“We tried our best to mitigate the impact of the tax increase in some communities,” Matos said. “Our goal is to go back to General Assembly … we’re going to go back and talk to the House, talk to the speaker again.”

She said the council will also introduce a new commission to study the city’s tax structure, including whether the process of revaluing Providence homes should change. Right now, state law requires a full property assessment to be done every nine years, with statistical adjustments every three years.

Council Finance Chairman John Igliozzi, the champion of the two-tiered homestead plan who frequently sparred with Elorza during the course of the negotiations, said the relationship between the mayor’s office and the council is like an “elastic band,” with a lot of back-and-forth.

Igliozzi said he hopes city leaders can “turn the page” after the budget feud and focus on the school department, after a scathing report was released last month about the state of the city’s schools.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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