Rewrite this post
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After a second public hearing, the city budget is one step closer to gaining final approval from Providence leaders.
The Providence City Council Finance Committee approved an amended $583 million city budget by a vote of 3-0. Mayor Brett Smiley’s initial budget proposal was $586 million.
For the first time, the public got to weigh in on the revamped budget proposed by the City Council, which was presented in part to the committee last week. Previously, community members only got the chance to weigh in on the mayor’s initial proposal.
Now, city councilors will have to decide whether or not to approve a budget that would raise residential property taxes and slightly lower commercial property taxes — a point of contention for some residents and city business owners who voiced their concerns at a hearing Tuesday night.
Smiley proposed an increase in property taxes for residential homeowners, while also seeking to cut the commercial tax rate charged to businesses and large apartment buildings. The city has not passed a tax increase in eight years.
Under council leaders’ revised budget, residential property taxes would increase from $17.80 to $18.35 per $1,000. The mayor proposed $18.70.
The average-priced home would see an increase of $226, almost half of the $448 Mayor Smiley proposed.
Commercial property taxes, meanwhile, would decrease from $35.40 to $35.10 per $1,000. The mayor had proposed a lower rate of $34.10.
Additionally, the homestead exemption would decrease to 43% under the amended budget, down from the current rate of 45%. The mayor’s proposal was 40%.
John Goncalves, senior deputy majority leader of the City Council representing Ward 1, says he is “breaking from the leadership” on the tax proposal.
“While I think my colleagues did a great job and it’s been an open and transparent process, I don’t think I can vote for a tax increase for our residents,” Goncalves told 12 News. (He is also running in the special election for Congress to replace David Cicilline.)
City Council President Rachel Miller says the city needs an opportunity to discuss the tax structure outside of the constraints of a tight budget timeline.
“This summer we’ll discuss, and this fall, we’ll announce a tax commission that gives us a breath to really dive into these proposals outside of the five to six-week crunch between needing to pass a levy for the fiscal year,” Miller told 12 News after Tuesday night’s meeting.
Miller also thanked Councilwoman Helen Anthony, who chairs the finance committee, for making the budget process more transparent. Anthony was struck by a van while on a hiking trip in California last weekend and was unable to attend Tuesday night’s meeting.
“I can’t thank her enough for getting us to this point and leading in such a way that has really engaged the public in a new way in this process,” Miller said.
The council’s budget includes a hiring freeze for new “non-essential” jobs. The council says this is due to a $7.1 million shortfall in PILOT, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes funds, from tax-exempt city hospitals and universities.
“The mayor’s administration is trying to get the colleges to pay, and until that happens, because we really don’t know what number they’re gonna get, we have a hiring freeze,” Councilman James Taylor told 12 News.
The revised budget would also allocate $1.5 million for neighborhood infrastructure projects, like playgrounds, school buildings, and street safety improvements.
Funding for a lateral Providence Fire Academy and a second Providence Police Academy is also included, though under the council’s plan police training would begin around February, instead of this October.
The council has to approve the amended budget twice to take effect. The first special council meeting will be scheduled for Friday at 4:30 p.m.
. Keep all images. Remove “and links” at the beginning