NORTH SMITHFIELD — Town Administrator Paulette D. Hamilton is calling for a change to the town charter that would give the town administrator veto power over the budget, a move she says will provide a better system of checks and balances.
Hamilton's comments come a few weeks after the Town Council approved a $33.8 million budget in just under an hour and a half, a version that was proposed by Town Council President Edward Yazbak on the night the budget was to be adopted. Hamilton has stated that Yazbak’s proposal was last-minute and lacked pertinent updated figures as opposed to her budget proposal.
As a result, she said, the town is now facing several budgetary problems.
“The town budget process may cost the town millions in potential lost revenues and lawsuits,” Hamilton said this week. “The new proposal that was offered to the public and council members on the night of the budget adoption replaced the advertised budget for Fiscal 2012. No one in the administration, or the other Town Council members, had received this important document prior to it being handed out by the Town Council president that night. This raises the issue of potential violation of open meetings, for which our town should seek counsel. There was virtually no time to read it, yet, it won approval in 90 minutes.”
Hamilton said the town charter, as currently written, is flawed because it does not provide checks and balances when it comes to the town operating budget.
“The town administrator position holds no veto power over budgets, therefore the town administrator cannot represent the best interest of the residents should the budget not pass muster,” she said.
“I recommend a change in the charter to provide for this authority.”
Hamilton says she has identified several “problems” associated with the budget passed by the council, a budget she says will create “serious financial threats to the town.”
Some of those issues, she said include:
• The proposed revenue budget is $60,000 less than the approved expenditures budget.
• The reserved control of contingency funds by the Town Council is in violation of the town charter.
• The arbitrary split of a position between union and non-union is in violation of an existing contract, thus inviting a lawsuit. A memorandum of understanding, Hamilton said, should have been attempted prior to proposing a cut. As an adjunct, she added, the administrative assistant to the administrator was eliminated, leaving residents without someone to answer their questions.
• The removal of an existing part-time grant writer's position could mean a loss of “significant” grant revenue.
• Municipal services are without even minimal resources should the town encounter any unforeseen event.
• The budget as adopted will force use of the reserve fund despite consensus warnings that this will jeopardize the town's bond rating.
• It eliminates any funding for use in unemployment claims for which the town is self insured and must pay to recipients.
“The budget process has created serious financial threats for the town at a time when Central Falls faces an unprecedented bankruptcy,” Hamilton said. “Our financial strength and ability to respond to the needs of our residents are paramount. I look forward to revisiting this budget, and to rectifying some of these issues.”
Said Hamilton: “I believe the budget process must include veto power for the administrator as in other cities and towns. Future administrators should exercise the authority to provide the necessary checks and balances as provided for through a charter revision.”