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Council approves $4.3M bond for school fire code upgrades

With newly appointed Superintendent of Schools Richard D’Agostino, as well as members of the School Committee in attendance, the council unanimously approved the issuance of a $4.3 million school bond to update fire codes in nine schools. The council also approved Wednesday a resolution calling for a study to equalize business and residential tax rates.

While the council was slated to vote on the bond issue Feb. 11, it postponed action per Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon’s request, as he wanted a detailed fiscal note before a vote.

Items included the cost of the issuance of the bond, how the funds will be utilized and whether Warwick residents will be the guarantors of the bonds and if it will be paid for by funds through the school department.

Warwick Schools Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci presented the information with what he described as a detailed chart. School Committee members Beth Furtado, Karen Bachus and Eugene Nadeau were also present.

Ferrucci said the funds will be used for fire code updates at Robertson, Lippitt, Sherman, Greenwood, Wyman, Drum Rock, Veterans Memorial, Toll Gate and Winman. Originally, he said eight schools would undergo the upgrades, but noted that Winman is also included.

As he did during the Feb. 11 meeting, Ferrucci said the funds are for phase two of a three-phase process, with eight or nine schools in each phase. Phase one took place during the summer, with phase two scheduled for this summer, and phase three in the summer of 2014.

He went on to say that they reached a total of $4.3 million through the following figures: $3.8 million for project costs based on the roster of buildings; a contingency of $250,000 to cover any unexpected issues; and $151,000 in engineer fees to create bidding documents. If the funds aren’t fully spent, said Ferrucci, they will be used on phase three.

Solomon then said that he researched some older information that was presented to the council on an earlier bond issue and pointed out that the school department requested $4.2 million for phase one and spent $3.5 million, making them under budget by $700,000. Solomon wanted to know if the excess funds could be used for phase two, and Ferrucci said that the funds were placed under capital projects. When Solomon called for an itemization of the $3.5 million, Ferrucci said he would have provided it beforehand had he known Solomon wanted it.

Solomon said he was interested in the additional information because he was concerned that the school department was over budget by $700,000 on phase one.

“We have to have an exact science here; there’s no room for excess,” Solomon said. “We cannot afford excess that is not necessary, and I rely on you and the School Committee to focus on that. The taxpayers are footing the bill, both for schools and other services, and as long as I’m here, I’m going to sharpen the pencil, so don’t take offense to it.”

As for the resolution that would equalize business and residential tax rates, Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan, the sponsor, said the intention is to establish a committee to review the business and residential tax rates and explore ways that the tax rate structure could be made more equitable without adversely impacting residential or business taxpayers. Currently, the city’s property tax structure sets the commercial tax rate at 150 percent of the residential tax rate.

By equalizing them, Donovan hopes to encourage businesses to locate in the city and motivate existing businesses located in the city to expand.

“I think we have an opportunity to hopefully improve on that business-friendly environment that we have and see successful results both on the residential tax rate, as well as the business tax rate,” Donovan said.

The committee should be composed of nine members appointed as follows: three members appointed by the mayor, tax assessor/collector and finance director or their designees, with at least one person from the general public who is a taxpayer in the city; three members appointed by the council president, two of whom shall be council members, and one from the general public and is a Warwick taxpayer; a member appointed by the president of the Chamber of Commerce; a member appointed by the executive director of the Rotary; and a member appointed by the president of the State AFL-CIO.

According to the legislation, the committee should present its report and recommendations to the City Council on the city’s tax rate structure within 180 days of its formation.


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