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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The city budget faces one more procedural hurdle before it can take effect in Providence.
On Friday, the Providence City Council held a special meeting to vote on an amended $583 million city budget and approved the first passage in a 12-1 vote.
Earlier this week, the City Council Finance Committee approved the revised budget by a vote of 3-0. Mayor Brett Smiley’s initial budget proposal was $586 million.
The plan would raise residential property taxes from $17.80 to $18.35 per $1,000, slightly lower commercial property taxes from $35.40 to $35.10 per $1,000, and decrease the homestead exemption from 45% to 43%.
Councilors acknowledged the residential tax increases will be challenging for many residents.
“I know that there are going to be people hurting from this and it’s going to break my heart a lot,” Councilwoman Althea Graves said.
Council President Rachel Miller pointed out another challenge is that this is the last year the city will have American Rescue Plan Act money as a source of revenue in the budget.
“So really, we are trying to balance quality service, affordability and in doing so, realized $4.1 million in savings for residents,” Miller said. “It really is significantly decreased from what was proposed in April.”
Miller said the city needs an opportunity to discuss the tax structure outside of the constraints of a tight budget timeline, and will convene a tax commission in the fall to do so.
The average-priced home would see an increase of $226, almost half of the $448 Smiley proposed.
John Goncalves, senior deputy majority leader of the City Council representing Ward 1, was the one no vote. While he applauded the transparency of this year’s budget process, he told councilors he doesn’t agree with raising taxes and voted no on the tax levy. (He is also running in the special election for Congress to replace David Cicilline.)
“I think the decision to do this is unfortunate for the people we all represent,” Goncalves said. “In a perfect world, I would have hoped the pilot agreements would have been already negotiated so we could have arrived at a better revenue and levy outcome from compelling our large tax-exempt institutions to pay their fair share.”
The City Council also approved an amendment that would cause 75% of revenue generated from school speed zone cameras to be put in the revolving fund and go towards traffic calming measures, provided that the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT agreements exceed $7.1 million.
Councilors said the amendment was inspired by public testimony before the Finance Committee on Tuesday.
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.
“We heard this testimony in the public hearing this week and received this in writing as well, and wanted to be responsive to the really great ideas that we heard from constituents in this body,” AnderBois said. “So, that wasn’t just an exercise of we’re going to listen, but not do anything. We listened, we heard. It was really compelling.”
The budget needs to be passed one more time by the council before it can take effect. A vote is scheduled for next week.
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