Newport Mayor Jamie Bova provided the following update to email subscribers on Sunday evening;
Please stay informed about the latest directions and guidelines related to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. The City of Newport has a dedicated webpage with information to keep our community protected: https://www.cityofnewport.com/city-hall/departments/fire/community-resources/covid19
With the expiration of Governor Raimondo’s Stay at Home order comes the beginning of “Phase I” of reopening our state. Overall, there are not many changes from Stay at Home to Phase I, but I encourage you to read through the documentation on the Reopening RI website for details. Cloth face masks and social distancing are both still required at all times in public. The State has reopened some of their parks with social distancing and mask regulations in place; these regulations are also in place at City parks. If you do not have a face mask, please contact me and I will help you get one.
Locally, the Council has been working with the City Manager to streamline processes for our local businesses so they can get back to business. Even though there will be little change our day to day life during Phase I, the plans we make now will help us during the reopening under Phase II. The Council has another COVID-19 status meeting on Tuesday where we will further discuss the reopening process in Newport and welcome public comments and suggestions.
This Wednesday, May 13, the City Council will be holding a regular meeting at 6:30 via Zoom and call-in, and the main topic we will be discussing is the proposed FY21 budget. During this meeting there will be a public hearing on the budget, and the public is encouraged to comment and ask questions about the budget, revenues, and expenditures. Instructions will be provided at the meeting on how to comment and ask questions in Zoom or by phone.
The FY21 budget is a difficult one; we are facing a reduction of $3,557,885 from the General Fund due to decreased revenues and a budget proposal that includes no increases to property tax or sewer rates. The City Manager’s memo to the Council details the budget and the proposal of how $3.5 M would be cut: the elimination of the $1,261,600 from transfers to the revolving equipment replacement accounts and a reduction of $1,602,562 from capital funding. The impact of the reduced investment in maintenance and continuous infrastructure improvement have the potential to be felt for years, but the plan maintains a stable government staff to continue to provide essential government services that our residents need.
Following input from the public during the public hearing, the Council will vote on the first reading whether to adopt the budget, which is introduced as two ordinance changes. The second reading with the final budget approval will occur at the May 27 meeting.
Also on this week’s docket is a memo from the City Manager requesting direction on the scheduling of a workshop on the School Construction Bond. This workshop is critical to allow the Council the opportunity to discuss the project and the bond with City staff, the School Committee, and the public. The General Treasurer is also willing to participate in any workshop that is scheduled. The proposed project bond from the School Department would fund the construction of a new high school building and the construction of an addition onto the Pell Elementary School building. The application has been submitted for approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education. and the Council must consider the bond proposal before the public has the opportunity to vote on it. If the school proposal is accepted and the bond is passed this year, the project would be reimbursed at a rate of 52.5% from the State. If the bond is not voted on this November, the City is only eligible to receive the mandated minimum 35% reimbursement from the State after the incentive deadlines have passed.
The fiscal situation facing the City is one that no one has experienced in living memory. This pandemic has weakened our economy and our morale as a community. The upcoming year is one of contraction because the state of emergency has greatly reduced our City’s revenues. We need to be proactive in planning our future and make wise investments with the taxpayer’s money; I am going to keep working the Council and our community to determine a path forward that includes all of us. We must look beyond the upcoming year and build a long-term strategy for our recovery as a community.
Newport Mayor and Council Chair
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