A $160.5 million all-funds budget that keeps East Providence deficit-free and does not increase taxes was approved unanimously by the state-appointed Budget Commission on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 18.
The budget keeps the residential tax rate at $20.74 per $1,000 of assessed value or approximately $5,000 without a Homestead Exemption on a $250,000 home.
It keeps the commercial/industrial rate at $22.94 per $1,000 of assessed value, the motor vehicle rate at $37.10 and the rate on tangible property at $51.19.
In short, no tax increase anywhere for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. And no deficit, of course.
The new budget also includes all-day kindergarten for next year – a major priority for the School Committee, and it keeps the Municipal Court intact instead of sending traffic cases and the resulting revenues to the RI Traffic Tribunal.
The budget does not include middle school sports, another contentious issue over the past few months.
Diane Brennan, chair of the Budget Commission, described the new budget for East Providence as a fluid spending plan that still “has a lot of work to be done” to gain the savings written into the budget.
Michael O’Keefe, a Budget Commission member and former chair, said: “East Providence citizens and officials now have to take over the commission’s charge to balance the budget and keep the city out of million-dollar deficits.”
“It’s not the Budget Commission down the road,” he said. “It will be the new City Council in January and the new School Committee. And no one has walked in here and said raise our taxes.”
Scores of people jammed Room 306 on the third floor of City Hall Thursday afternoon for the final public hearing on the proposed budget. They came to fight for all-day kindergarten and to make sure Oldham School will not be closed and to make sure there is a “maintenance of effort” for the schools in the budget.
Laurie Brown, the co-chair of the EP Local Advisory Committee for Special Education, also came to score again a comment made by O’Keefe about special education expenditures. He said any time more money is put into special education it’s “robbing other kids and teachers.”
“I am offended by the comment,” she said. “You are pitting special education against general education. That is such an insensitive remark it’s unconscionable. We feel like we’re being attacked and special ed is becoming a budgetary issue.”
O’Keefe said his comment was only part of the conversation that was printed in the East Providence Post. He said it was made in the context of explaining that East Providence has the highest participation rate in the state for special education -- about 1 of every 5 students, and the cost is “way above the average for every other community.”
The Budget Commission’s goal over the next five years, he said, is to get the special education costs in East Providence down to the state average.