Elorza’s budget plan delayed a week; release moved to next Tuesday

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza State of the City address_257917

Mayor Jorge Elorza (file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza plans to submit his budget proposal for the next fiscal year to the City Council on April 28, amid uncertainty about the city’s finances because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic wreaking havoc on tax revenues for the city, Elorza was planning to release the budget plan on Tuesday of this week.

Emily Crowell, Elorza’s communications director, said in lieu of his usual budget address, the mayor will record a video message about the plan next Wednesday, one day after submitting the documents to the council.

The mayor will be submitting the budget plan right before the deadline, set by the city charter at 60 days before the new fiscal year starts on July 1. The City Council then vets and amends the budget before passage, typically in late June.

This year’s budget plan is complicated by a sharp decline in rooms, meals and beverage taxes due to the closure of many businesses, plus the delay in receiving some property taxes after Elorza waived late fees and interest until June 30.

Other revenues are also expected to be down, such as receipts from the school-zone speed cameras, which Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said were turned off when school buildings closed. The city has not released any specific projections on how low revenues are expected to be for the current fiscal year or the upcoming one.

Providence also relies significantly on state aid, which could be in flux as the pandemic hit well after Gov. Gina Raimondo originally submitted her budget plan to state lawmakers in January. The General Assembly hasn’t met in weeks, and will have to change the plan to reflect the economic situation whenever lawmakers do return.

Elorza also froze non-essential spending and hiring in March amid the pandemic.

Providence is expected to be eligible for millions in federal funding for expenses incurred because of the pandemic, including free meals distributed to schoolchildren and the cost of putting first responders up at a hotel if they need to quarantine.

Last Thursday, the City Council passed a resolution asking Elorza to submit a report on the state of the city’s finances to the council within three days. The resolution requested a plan to address budget shortfalls, an assessment of city contracts and an accounting of unspent money from Capital Improvement Plan projects.

Elorza’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the resolution.

“Without a complete financial analysis, our committee has no way to prepare for the coming budget and the best way to meet our responsibilities,” said Councilman John Igliozzi, the chairman of the council’s Finance Committee. “Our request for a complete financial forecast is not only prudent but imperative during this economic crisis.”

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

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