WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon has submitted his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year to the Warwick City Council, including previously announced layoffs to save money amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite expected revenue loss due to the pandemic, the proposed $323.5 million budget keeps all tax rates the same as the current year, with residential property taxes at $18.73 per $1,000.
“There’s no way in heck that the taxpayers of this city can afford a tax increase right now,” Solomon told WPRI 12 in an interview.
Solomon eliminated more than 60 jobs in his budget plan, some of them vacant positions he does not plan to fill. More than 40 of those are layoffs, estimated to save the city $1.6 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
According to a breakdown provided by the city, Public Works and the Highway Department will lose the most positions, at 17. Parks & Recreation will lose eight jobs, while the Fire Department will lose 11 vacant firefighter positions because an academy isn’t being held due to COVID-19.
Layoff notices have not yet been sent out. The Local 1651 union contract contains a provision allowing for seniority in layoffs, meaning people who receive layoff notices will be able to “bump” less senior members, provided they are able to do that person’s job.
Solomon noted that he offered the members of the Local 1651 the option to forgo previously negotiated raises for this year in order to avoid layoffs, but the union declined his offer.
The union subsequently accused the mayor of “politics and bullying,” claiming they asked Solomon to continue negotiating, but were presented with a “take-it-or-leave-it offer.”
“I’m not opening up negotiations,” Solomon said Thursday of the current union contract, which expires in June 2021.
Solomon noted that he is not raising salaries for any directors or non-union members of his administration.
“Where I don’t have to fill positions, I will not be filling positions,” Solomon said.
The mayor said he is planning to dip into Warwick’s surplus account to increase the School Department’s budget by $2 million, bringing that $31 million rainy day fund down to $29 million.
Solomon said his infrastructure improvement plan will continue as planned, which includes road paving and other improvements such converting streetlights to LED.
He noted that the budget plans could change depending on whether Congress approves funding to help municipalities shore up their budgets.
It’s also unclear how much state aid will go to municipalities, since Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal was put forward in January, before the first COVID-19 cases were discovered on March 1. The R.I. House Finance Committee is meeting Thursday to discuss the state budget.
Solomon’s budget proposal will need to be vetted and approved by the Warwick City Council before going into effect on July 1. Council President Steve Merolla said Thursday he had not yet reviewed the budget proposal, but said council hearings would begin on May 26.