2015-04-30 / Opinion

Weighty Budget Sessions

The tome, all three pounds and eleven-and-a-quarter ounces of it, is—to say the least—a weighty volume. And that’s as it should be.

The city of Newport’s first-ever “Proposed Biennial Budget,” covers two, rather than just one, fiscal year—the one that begins July 1 as well as July 1, 2016. We applaud the city’s effort to save taxpayers money by adopting a new way to look at the city’s revenue and spending situation.

This approach to budgeting, we are told, promises a more streamlined process next spring, when city leaders— presumably including a new city manager—can focus mostly on necessary changes to the budget assumptions previously applied.

We are told that this biennial approach saves both time and money— all told 1,000 hours and $100,000 worth of time—that is typically required to assemble the 450-page monster.

Of course, not all the budget news is good. But perhaps the good news is that none of what the two-year budget proposal contains could be accurately described as “terrible” either. For example, twopercent increases in the city property tax rate in each of the next two fiscal years is not welcome news. But nor is it awful. We understand how difficult budget-making can be these days, what with the cost of retiree benefits and employee health care coverage, to name just a couple of the chronic budget breakers everywhere.

We are told that the city would spend $150,000 to pay for salary and benefits of one new position—that of a communications director. Your initial reaction might be to ask, why do the mayor, city manager, or any other top city official need this position to get their message across? Well, in today’s world of social media, cell phones that do everything but your laundry, and 24-hour news cycles, someone with skills that go beyond minimal typing and good spelling is a must.

Get the right person in that new position and everyone in the city of Newport will be better off. And misunderstandings will be, at least, kept to a minimum.

Of course, the biggest issue is, as in most municipalities, school costs. The proposed budget sets aside $23.8 million for the schools. If that seems like a lot, consider that Newport School Superintendent Colleen Jermain maintains she’ll need a four percent increase. That’s the maximum allowed under state law.

It’s also over $900,000.

We were not born yesterday. We understand how difficult it must be to balance a school budget that is impacted so heavily by obligations to school retirees. We don’t have a magic solution to this annual dilemma. As one school board member suggested, bringing this situation under control may take several years to accomplish.

But, of course, a contract is a contract.

We’re sure there are still miles to go on this issue alone.

And, with numerous workshops and public hearings still to come, it would be nice to see a better turnout than the handful of citizens who showed up for budget workshops on April 27 and 29. We hope that more wll take an interest in this important process as it unfolds in the weeks to come.

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