Newport City Council hosted a two hour workshop with State Legislators on Saturday morning at City Hall. Prior to their workshop with State Legislators (which took place from 10 am to 12 pm), they hosted a workshop to discuss what would be discussed during the legislative workshop (which took place from 9 am to 10 am).
Present for the meeting was all seven members of Newport City Council as well as Representative Carson, Senator Euer, Representative Abney, and Senator DiPalma.
City Council provided the State Legislators with an agenda and several highlights and items that they wanted to discuss and bring attention to.
Infrastructure needs, City challenges, and revenue was certainly on the top of the mind and agenda for the City Council and the City Manager throughout the meeting.
Ryan Belmore from What’s Up Newp was the only member of the media present at the meeting. Here are some highlights and notes from the meeting;
City Administration/City Council
The meeting began with a discussion regarding the Governor’s budget items and impact on municipal government as gleaned from the First Look Senate Fiscal Office Report.
Joe Nicholson, Newport City Manager, shared the following concerns with the First Look document (dated January 21, 2020) with with City Council during their workshop this morning between 9 am – 10 am and with State Legislators between 10 am – 12 pm;
1. Elimination of the EMT Exemption – this proposes to eliminate the professional licensing fee exemption for EMT and EMS personnel working for municipalities. In all likelihood the City will be asked to voer the costs of the professional licensing fees.
- While the exact financial impact of this change wasn’t known by the City Manager, he said that it would be significant. During discussion with the State Legislator, the conversation on this topic didn’t go anywhere.’
2. Hotel Tax – the Governor is once again proposing to increase the hotel tax by 1% for the purpose of putting that money into the state’s coffers. The City has been trying for several years to get the GA to pass a resolution increasing hotel tax for desperately needed revenue to support City infrastructure and schools. This proposal makes it unlikely that our proposal would ever pass.
- Councilor McLaughlin shared during the Council workshop of today that he believes #2 & #7 here could potentially have the financial impact of the City in the range of millions of dollars.
- While the City of Newport is the only community in the state currently allowed to collect a hotel tax (1%), the City Manager expressed that adding an additional 1% was “our idea first” and would like to see that City be compensated additional in some way on this front.
- Councilor Napolitano made a point that Rhode Island already has the 3rd highest hotel taxes in the country.
3. Collection Fee for Pass-Thru Municipal Revenue – The Division of Taxation will be allowed to deduct a 2% administrative fee for collection the pass-throughout aid of local share of meal and beverage tax and local hotel tax from the municipalities. No municipality including Newport is allowed to collect meals and beverage tax so we can’t avoid the fee. We are the only municipality in the state allowed to collect hotel tax. We don’t think the state should keep any portion of our share of the revenue, but ,in the event his passed ,the City should be allowed to withhold an administrative fee from our collection of the state’s and other share of hotel tax.
4. Affordable Housing Exemption from Transfer Tax – while likely minimal based on the Governor’s estaimate of savings, the City share of the Transfer Tax is 47.8%. We would lose any revenue from transfer of affordable housing.
5. The Governor is recommending funding the PILOT at 26.2% and not the full 27%.
6. The Governor is proposing to create a commission to study commercial property and tangible taxes at the municipal level. We would want to make sure we are fully represented on any such commission. There would be significant financial impact on the City from an y recommended changes. In conjunction with this is an item on page 49 called the proposed a tangible personal property tax competitive initiative, which would establish a new 5 -year limited state would reimburse municipalities for lost revenue for up to 5 years. I presume the municipality would have to eliminate the revenue source after the time.
7. Permanent Funding Stream – The Governor proposes a new restricted account called the Housing Production Fund, which would be capitalized by an increase in the real estate conveyance tax. Funds would be used to build 250 new housing units and $220,000 to a new municipal housing development partnership initiative focused on improved local capacity. It’s possible this would be disproportionately funded from Newport property transfers and spent in other localities.
- Many Councilors felt that there was a disproportion of funding happening here and that Newport is already “contribution revenue potentially over our weight”. Councilor McLaughlin equated it to something like this is our cow, and the state wants to milk it that they also have to us take care of it. A feeling among many that the money being raised, or taxed here, was going to be spent somewhere else in the state.
- Concerns were also brought up that “40% of property” is not taxed in the City and the state may be looking at value when redistributing and not what is actually taxed.
Liquor Licenses – new liquor license otherwise issued and limitation on tranferablility.
- City Council told the State Legislators that they are considering to propose legislation that would add new BT Licenses. These special BT Licenses would not be able to be transferred. If a business no longer operates, the license would be turned back into the City. Three other communities already have this type of license, legislation would be copied from how they operate. There would have to be enabling legislation and a change in City Ordinances to this has a long road ahead of it.
Tax Classification and revenue took up a significant portion of the meeting. Among the topic were an amendment to local tax classification law incorporating general provision of existing state law which allow in lieu of a homestead exemptions to provide different tax treatment to residents versus non-residents.
Short term rentals – Amendment to local tax classification law taxing short term rental using the Commercial rate.
- The discussion mentioned that any non-occupied short-term rental would be changed to being taxed at the Commercial Rate.
- Representative Carson also mentioned that she is drafting a bill in the House on a statewide short-term rental registration bill.
Amend PILOt to include legislatively exempt property along with increase in available funds.
Civics lessons, Short Term Rentals, Transfer on Death Deed were all briefly discussed.
Collaboration/regionalization of schools
- A conversation about collaboration/regionalization of schools dovetailed into a discussion on the school budget formula.
- The continuation of available funding for school construction costs and/or regionalization was a big topic. Senator Euer shared there is no certainty that there will be a statewide bond available in 2022, it depends on the financial health of Rhode Island.
Status of National Grid reimbursing residents for actual damages-gas outage.
- Senator Euer and Representative Abney agree – there will not be additional reimbursements from National Grid in terms of the 2019 gas outage.
Although on the agenda to be discussed, RIDOT Bridge ramp plans-effect on City Yard land -Newport associated costs, 2020 Census, Special Development Districts, Green Energy vs needed Energy Supply, and Lifespan/hospital funding formulas were not discussed.
- Councilor Ceglie brought up possibly imposing a 5 cent tax or total ban on nip bottles in the City. Representative Carson mentioned that there may be a place to do something in the plastic legislation that is coming out this year.
- Councilor Taylor asked State Legislators to assist the Council in reminding National Grid that they have to let City Administration know when they are working on local roads.
The public had a few minutes at the end of the meeting to address the join workshop, topics ranged from affordable housing to health issues.
From 9 am to 10 am, City Council hosted a workshop to discuss the topics that they would be talking to State Legislators about. The City Council Workshop with State Legislators starts at 10 am (approximately one hour into the video below).