WOONSOCKET – The City Council last night approved Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s first proposed budget, a $129.7 million spending plan that would hike residential property taxes about 5 percent.
The figure may come as a surprise because the Budget Commission’s five-year financial rehabilitation plan for the city calls for increases in the overall levy of 4 percent a year, the maximum allowed by law.
During a public hearing prior to the vote, Baldelli-Hunt explained the discrepancy to one irate taxpayer. When the levy, or the total amount of taxable property, increases by four percent, the net effect on all taxpayer classes is not equal. Because some tax rates are fixed by law, such as the motor vehicle rate, other rates, such as the residential rate, may increase more.
“I pay $6,700 a year right now,” said taxpayer Rene Carpentier. “We’re talking almost $7,000 a year in property taxes. That used to be people’s mortgage. It’s ridiculous. You wonder why people keep moving out of the city. They can’t afford it.”
Under the proposed budget, residential tax rates rise from $34.56 to $36.44 per thousand and commercial rates, $39.81 to $41.95. Motor vehicle taxes stay the same, $46.58 per thousand.
One member of the City Council praised the mayor for eliminating the $96 a year trash fee.
“I’ve got to give you credit,” said Councilman Roger G. Jalette Sr. “You have found a way to eliminate some costs for the city of Woonsocket.”
The mayor said the merger of police and fire dispatch, expected to save about $700,000, in combination with other consolidations, helped her ditch the so-called trash-tax.
Councilman Garret Mancieri proposed a more favorable homestead exemption for two and three family properties but conceded it was too late to make the change. He accepted Council President Albert Brien's offer to bring the change before the Budget Commission which will have the final vote on the budget, which is expected to meet on Wednesday to take up the matter.
If approved as is, the tax bill for a single-family home worth $120,000 would increase about $157 a year, to about $3,060. The figure reflects the 30 percent homestead exemption. The budget commission’s five-year plan envisions a gradual rollback in the exemption, but Baldelli-Hunt said her spending plan would preserve the exemption at 30 percent in 2015.
The mayor said the commission has locked the city into certain increases in the levy for the duration of the five-year plan, which would end sometime in 2018.
“That’s why the administration is trying to find relief in other areas,” including the elimination of the trash fee, she said.
Only a handful of residents attended the public hearing on the budget yesterday afternoon in Harris Hall. Councilors voted on the spending package later in the evening during a regular meeting.
-Joseph Nadeau contributed to this report.