Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt's FY'18 Budget Letter

Office of the Mayor 

 May 12, 2017 
Christina Harmon-Duarte, City Clerk
City Hall
Woonsocket, R.I. 02895 
Dear Madam Clerk:  
It is my pleasure to submit to you, the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning  July 1, 2017 and ending on June 30, 2018 that both reduces property taxes and enhances services to our residents and businesses. This budget has been prepared in accordance with the requirements of Chapter VII of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Woonsocket and indicates in detail, proposed expenditures and estimated revenues for the General Fund (including Education Department), the Water System Revenue Fund, the Regional Wastewater Treatment Fund, and the User Charge Collection Fund. 
This budget reflects the principles that have guided this administration through three years of progress. Together, our community has benefitted from a concerted effort to reduce the City’s debt burden; improve quality of life through strategic investments in our roads, parks, and public spaces; invest in public safety personnel and equipment; eradicate blight from our neighborhoods; support the education of our youth; stimulate economic development; and protect our seniors and veterans. Through responsible budgetary oversight and tenacious adherence to fulfilling these objectives, we have been able to achieve success in all of these areas as evidenced by multiple bond rating upgrades; reconstruction of numerous roads across the City; the dramatic rehabilitation of World War II Veterans Memorial Park; improved public safety; increased business development; and advocating for and honoring our seniors and veterans. Our efforts have been bold, and we will remain steadfast in addressing the challenges our resilient City still faces. 
We have demonstrated that through prudent budgeting we can reduce the tax burden upon our hardworking residents, while still improving city services by investing in key sectors of the community. I am pleased to propose a budget which will result in a 3.14% decrease in the residential real estate tax rate to $30.84 per thousand of assessed value. This will provide the average Woonsocket household with tax savings of $113.00 and represents the second consecutive year that we have reduced residential property taxes. 
Additionally, this budget also recommends the lowering of the commercial tax rate to $37.99 per thousand, which is also the second consecutive year of commercial tax relief. This reduction in residential and commercial tax rates will provide needed relief to our residents and business owners, while ensuring fiscal stability. 
This year, I am also recommending doubling our tax exemptions for our war veterans and widows and widowers of war veterans to $158.76 from the current $79.38. Doubling this exemption recognizes the tremendous sacrifice and devoted service that our veterans and their families have made on behalf of our community and our country. 
This proposed FY’18 budget continues to keep a watchful eye on spending, while making key investments in our community. For too long, our City relied on borrowing to fix budget woes. This document reflects this administration’s belief that we need to avoid borrowing, keep our expenses low, and pay down our debt. We must act responsibly and address these liabilities to ensure a stable fiscal future for this City.  
Efforts by the City Hall finance team included successfully refunding outstanding bonds to achieve lower interest rates – saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over the coming years. Keeping our City’s finances in order and addressing our liabilities has been noticed by credit rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s, who have both upgraded Woonsocket’s credit rating and outlook multiple times over the last two years. 
By keeping our financial house in order, we are able in this budget to invest in improving the quality of life for all residents. One of our most successful programs has addressed the infrastructure needs of the City by reconstructing over twenty roads during the last three years. Thanks to effective leadership within our Department of Public Works and a wise investment in paving equipment, Woonsocket has implemented the only in-house municipal road reconstruction program in Rhode Island. By performing work in-house, we save on the cost of paving roads and are also training employees with valuable skills that will be of great benefit to the City. Based upon the success of this program over the last three years, I am recommending increasing funding for road projects by $100,000 and budgeting a total of $700,000 towards these infrastructure improvements. Quality infrastructure is appreciated by residents, business owners, and visitors alike. 

Our investment in infrastructure also addresses the City’s energy needs of the future. This budget recommends funding $250,000 for energy improvements at City owned buildings, which will reduce utility costs for years to come. The City also remains well positioned in its operations of water and wastewater facilities, with an eye towards the future utilization of these assets to increase revenue for our City. 
I have worked with our residents to achieve significant progress in overcoming many of the challenges that our City has faced, yet vestiges of bad economic times persist in the form of blight and decay throughout our neighborhoods. Blight removal is a cornerstone of my administration, and we have implemented an aggressive blight removal program to reduce the health and safety risks and detrimental effects these properties have upon our community. I am recommending continuing to fully fund efforts to reduce blight in this budget. It is crucial that we remain focused on this issue. We all have to look no further than the former incinerator for an example of the lingering liability that accompanies blight.   
We have experienced the value of rejuvenated parks and public spaces throughout the City, beginning with the transformation of World War II Veterans Memorial Park. Continuing to fund maintenance and improvements for our parks and public spaces remains a priority and is reflected within this budget. The community relies on the City to preserve these publically owned spaces that are integral to our way of life in Woonsocket. Quality parks and public spaces help develop culture by hosting festivals, athletics, and leisure activities for the benefit of residents of all ages, which is why I recommend funding for their maintenance and improvements within this budget. 
Key to sustaining quality of life in our City are the brave men and women of our Fire and Police Departments. This budget recommends additional funding for our public safety departments so that they are equipped with the best personnel and equipment that we can provide. Our recent investments in public safety paid off this past year, as our Police Department earned accreditation from the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission. In the FY’18 budget, increasing our funding will allow our Police Department to hire new officers who will join the ranks of those who work so hard to keep our community safe. We will also be able to replace aging radio equipment for both Fire and Police Departments, which is crucial to their operations and our safety. 
We strive to deliver the best City services to the taxpayers of Woonsocket. This past year, we have successfully implemented E-Permitting; held the line against any trash fees; provided public events like car shows and concerts in the park; and kept our street lights shining bright. This budget recommends we provide the funding to allow the City to preserve and improve these services for the benefit of the community. 
We are witnessing business development as a result of a healthier economy throughout the City in areas like Main Street and Diamond Hill Road. Restaurants and retailers have returned to our City that was once the vibrant center of commerce in Northern Rhode Island. To facilitate economic development this administration is working hard to bring about the eventual return of passenger rail to Woonsocket. City Hall has worked 

diligently to create a perception of being business friendly throughout every department. My administration has made great progress in our economic development efforts and we must show relentless devotion to meeting the growing needs of our local economy by having the necessary staff to find and develop growth opportunities, maintaining small business loan and façade improvement programs, and passing legislation that fosters growth. The FY’18 budget stresses business development so we can continue the progress we have made. 
This budget represents a sound and affordable plan to hold the line on spending while making smart investments in improving quality of life for our residents. The cuts I propose for residential and commercial tax rates provide real relief to our taxpayers. I continue to be humbled by the support and resiliency of the people of Woonsocket. Your dedication to our City provides purpose and fuels my efforts to lead this City towards greater progress. 
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt