With the Johnston School Committee scheduled to begin its budget deliberations next week, Mayor Joseph Polisena offered four words when asked for his overall approach to the fiscal 2013 spending plan: "Level funding for everybody."
The current town budget stands at $89.45 million, with about $48.8 million funding school operations. Should the town's payment to the school district remain the same, it would mark the fifth straight year of level-funding.
"It's bad economic times," Polisena explained. "To me, I don't see things getting much better statewide. I'm concerned that the State House is looking at some mandates for the cities & towns that they're going forward with, like . We're concerned about what the state's doing. I think they're a little confused — they must think things are good."
Polisena said he's attended recent meetings at the State House with other muncipal leaders in an effort to get legislators to lift some of the unfunded mandates — like transporting students to private schools, which costs Johnston some $1.8 million of its roughly $4 million bus budget — but sounded unsure of those prospects.
"The House was very receptive, [whereas] the Senate listened, but they didn't give us a commitment," Polisena explained. "We'll see what happens."
In the meantime, Polisena highlighted some of the town's recent moves to cut costs — including the installation of a new town-run gas filling station at the Johnston Police Department that could significantly reduce fuel costs — though Polisena warned that any price hike would cut into the potential savings.
[Since the beginning of fiscal 2011, the town has paid about $600,000 to a private vendor to fuel municipal and police vehicles.]
"It all adds up, [but] you've still got to make provisions for the cost of fuel going up," Polisena noted.
Another possibly big area for savings is the town's work to move retirees from the costlier municipal health care plan to Medicare — which Polisena said "is not even close" to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras's plan for retirees there.
The Providence Journal reported thatTaveras is proposing a new city-run health plan for retirees that would require 20-percent co-share payments from each member of the plan who is under 65 years old. Retirees older than 65 would be moved into Medicare and a supplemental program, the newspaper reported.
"In Providence, it's going to cost the retirees $150 to $300 a month — our program is not going to cost the retirees anything [and] it's going to save [upwards of] $900,000," Polisena explained. "It's going to be a role-model plan — we've spoke with our retirees, we've guaranteed that there will be no out-of-pocket costs, they'll never even know that they went from Blue Cross to Medicare, and there will be substantial savings for the taxpayers."
The school committee is scheduled to hold budget workshops on Mar. 15 and 20 at 6 p.m. in the library. A third tentative date of Mar. 22 has also been set, if another hearing is needed.
Under the town charter, the school committee is expected to submit its budget to the town by April 1.
Polisena said he has begun meetings with town department heads on the fiscal 2013 plan; last year, the mayor proposed his budget to the town council on June 23, about a week before the start of the fiscal year.
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