Rossi: Finances, roads are priorities in 2019

Rossi: Finances, roads are priorities in 2019

SMITHFIELD – After another solid financial year, Town Manager Randy Rossi said he expects 2019 to bring progress on many town projects and a focus on adding improved customer service in town departments.

Rossi said one of his goals this year is to streamline town services, such as business licensing, by asking for constructive feedback from residents. He said he is figuring out the best way to survey for feedback, but expects to send out requests in the coming weeks.

Rossi plans to continue evaluating Smithfield departments by both using the town’s strategic plan and performing an annual review.

“I want to continue to examine the picture of the town, laying out the financial future,” he said.

Smithfield’s audit shows the town finished the 2018 fiscal year with a surplus of $622,692, with $15,580,742 in general funds.

Rossi said the School Department had similar results, with a surplus of $14,173, leaving a general fund balance of $1,789,360.

“It’s fantastic stuff. Smithfield is moving up and continuing in the right direction,” he said.

Having positive results will help improve the town’s bond rating for the upcoming elementary school reconfiguration and fire department construction bonds.

“It shows the financial stability of the town to plan for future debt on the horizon,” Rossi said.

While the School Department continues to look into recovering some of the $1.5 million deficit in state aid this year, Rossi said the School Committee has time now and during the budgeting process to make cuts necessary to balance the budget. He said the state’s process for evaluating state aid is “flawed,” and hopes at the very least the town can inspire change in the funding formula to give towns long-term aid expectations.

He said the town is beginning the budget process, “working toward a solid budget while minimizing the effect to taxpayers, at the same quality of service.”

Rossi said it is the first year implementing a federal firefighting grant, which will pay for 75 percent of the cost of hiring 13 new firefighters. The grant will alleviate overtime costs, creating a “null effect” on the budget, while increasing the health of the firefighters and improving service to the community, he added.

Rossi said the town and School Department are continuing to prepare for the elementary school improvement project, creating a request for qualifications for architects to design the project, as well as creating a real budget.

The architect will “tighten things up” in the planning process, but Rossi said the project is still a way away from starting. The addition of new debt is still a long way off, he said.

The School Department and town officials are meeting this week to begin discussions regarding reconfiguration plans. Rossi said both sides need to explore every avenue of revenue sources and be honest with taxpayers about state reimbursements.

The town will not begin borrowing until the Rhode Island Department of Education and state lawmakers decide what percentage reimbursement Smithfield will receive, and in what manner, he said. Rossi explained that the state may decide to pay the town a percentage of the reimbursement up front and the remainder at a later date. In the case of up-front funding, the town could borrow less bond money for the project.

“We need all these pieces before we start anything. I am frugal with the town’s money. We need facts and figures to minimize and delay impact,” he said.

Another project on the horizon includes the implementation of a computerized road assessment program, Pavement Management System, prioritizing segments of town roads for paving. Rossi said preliminary stages are complete, which include photographing and scoring road segments and giving each road an overall score. The town paid a one-time cost of $18,525 for the project.

The program will take any bias out of the process of deciding which segments are to be done next, with streets evaluated and rated by a third party and the computer suggesting where to spend money on repairs.

“It’s true priority rather than hit or miss selection,” Rossi said.

Rossi said the program makes the budgeting process for paving more transparent, where actual segments and roads will be named during the budget process at Smithfield’s Financial Town Meeting.

“Some of our roads are better than others, some need more immediate attention, but they’re not as bad as state roads,” Rossi said.

Rossi said he and the Town Council are meeting with state representatives to prioritize the paving of Greenville Avenue, a state road, in Smithfield. He said trucks and detours caused by the Citizens Bank campus construction have worsened a road that was already in tough shape. The road is not of an acceptable quality for residents, he said.

“You can see the pile-up of hubcaps on Greenville Avenue, it’s disturbing,” he said.

According to Rossi, Greenville Avenue was included in the state’s 2025 paving plan, which he said was “not fair to the residents.”

“We’re fighting for that,” Rossi said.

Rossi listed off the remaining goals for the town, including:

• Creating and approving a capital improvement plan “wish list,” working with department heads to develop a usable document.

• Building upon economic development initiatives by working with the Economic Development Commission to write goals and objectives for the town.

• And continuing to market the town to potential business owners and developers. Rossi said his goal is “to really show that Smithfield is open for business and is willing to work with growing the community in the right manner.”