2016-03-03 / Around Town

Newport State Aid May Increase

By Tom Walsh

With the Smith Hill debates over truck tolls and Rhode Island’s deteriorated bridges taking center stage for the first weeks of the legislative session, it might have been easy to overlook the fact that Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 could send an increased amount of state monies to Newport.

The city stands to receive more than $17 million in various forms of state aid next year, while Middletown would be in line for more than $10 million. The amount in Portsmouth would be around $5 million. While Newport would enjoy an increase in total aid in 2017, Middletown would experience a decrease.

Considered together, the three Aquidneck Island communities would get $33,397,472 in combined state financial aid under the governor’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, according to figures provided to Newport This Week by the Senate Fiscal Office.

Of course, these figures could change as the General Assembly undertakes its budget deliberations over the next several months.

“Those numbers are always subject to change, but not by a lot,” said Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed added, “There is certainly a real commitment by the governor, House speaker, and me to restore as much municipal aid as possible.”

According to the figures provided by the Senate Fiscal Office, Newport’s state education aid totals $10,597,219 in the current fiscal year. The education aid projected for fiscal 2017 is $10,623,658 – an increase of $26,439.

Newport’s “indirect” state aid would include $301,205 from its projected share of the state public service corporate tax, $2,254,385 from the state meals and beverage tax, and $2,399,358 from the state hotel tax. Newport’s “take” from these indirect sources figures to be $427,305 more next fiscal year than in the current year.

However, the $2,019,978 coming to the city in “direct” municipal aid would be $21,532 less than amounts received from that source in the current fiscal year ending June 30.

Overall, Newport’s state aid in these categories would increase in the aggregate by $432,212 under Raimondo’s budget.

“We did know that these were way up,” Napolitano said.

Rep. Marvin L. Abney, D-Newport, who serves on the House Finance Committee that first considers the state budget each year, said that after a recent meeting with the Newport School Committee he is concerned that Newport may not be receiving enough state education aid to properly address the rising costs of educating pupils with special needs.

“In the past we pretty much got what we needed,” Abney said. “But in the future we need to address escalating costs and make sure those kids who need special attention are taken care of.” He said he worries that the amount of state funding for these purposes “may not be where I’d like to see it.”

“I agree with him,” Paiva Weed said. “The governor’s budget begins the discussion. It’s an important discussion that we need to have.”

Abney added that he hopes the issue can be addressed in a timely way to “avoid having to raise taxes in the future. I am very concerned about making sure that we do not have to raise local taxes to take care of that.”

Middletown’s share of direct financial assistance from the state is also expected to drop, with the proposed budget providing $87,229 less in fiscal 2017 than in the current year.

At the same time, though, the Senate Fiscal Office’s figures show that the town’s indirect state aid from the several tax sources would grow by $129,046 in fiscal 2017. But with Middletown’s education aid projected to drop by $144,234, the town will be left with $102,417 less in total state aid next year.

“Our town has been cut over many years now,” said Marc W. Tanguay, Middletown’s interim finance director. “And any time you lose money, you have to budget for it some other way.”

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