CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — An item in the Cranston city charter has led to controversy over the city’s finances.
The city council voted to reject an amended version of Mayor Ken Hopkins’ fiscal budget, but according to the city charter, that means his initial proposal will go into effect.
“So essentially, a ‘no’ vote is actually a ‘yes’ vote for the higher budget,” City Council President Christopher Paplauskas told 12 News. Paplauskas was one of the councilors who voted to pass the amended budget.
Under Section 6.09, it says the city council must make a final determination on the budget by May 15, and if “the council has not adopted with or without amendment the operating budget and appropriation ordinance, they shall become effective as submitted to the council.”
Councilmembers on both sides of the aisle opposed the budget proposal. The Cranston Democratic Caucus released a statement saying it “jeopardizes the financial stability of the city.”
The amended budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 calls for $311 million in spending, which is an increase of around $19 million from last year’s budget. It includes a 2.85% tax increase, which Hopkins called “modest,” noting it’s the first tax increase in the city in four years.
“Unfortunately, the cost of government and running the city, just like anybody’s house, is going up probably 8% to 8.5%,” Hopkins said. “The city has bills that have to be paid, that we’re obligated to pay them.”
The Democratic Caucus also said Hopkins’ first proposal had a “structural deficit of $12 million.” When asked about the deficit, the mayor said 90% of the budget is contractually obligated bills the city has to pay.
Democratic Council Majority Leader John Donegan said the amended budget wasn’t much better than the original.
“Both budgets were bad, and you’re asking us to choose between two really bad budgets that I think the Council was put in an impossible situation to try and resolve these structural deficits,” Donegan said.
GOP Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli is one of the members who voted in favor of passing the amended budget. She said it’s the council’s job to put forward the best budget possible and that while the amended budget was not perfect, it would have at least saved the city some money.
A sticking point for some of the councilmembers was the mayor’s proposal to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for operational expenses. The Democratic Caucus said they want to use that funding to invest in the community, citing priorities such as the housing crisis, infrastructure, sustainability, lead-contaminated water lines, and parks and open space.
Renzulli said it’s unfortunate to use ARPA funding for operational expenses, but added that she understands the need to do so.
As for the city charter, Donegan said conversations are ongoing to attempt to change the measure that enacts a rejected budget proposal if the amended version is struck down as well.