Smithfield leaders say they will try to lower electric-fund transfers in next year’s budget.
At one of its final budget meetings for 2014-15, the Town Council last week asked Town Manager Paul Sabiston to lower the transfer by $150,000.
Sabiston had presented a budget that lowered the transfer by $63,000. Councilmen Andy Moore and Emery Ashley asked Sabiston to try to lower it even more.
Critics say transferring money from the electric fund to the general fund keeps electricity rates artificially high and the property tax artificially low.
This budget year, Smithfield transferred $730,000 in three chunks to the general fund. Two of those chunks, town officials say, pay electric department obligations to the general fund.
The third chunk, about $315,000 this year, is discretionary. For the year ahead, Sabiston’s budget recommended lowering that transfer to $249,000.
He also recommended increasing the two other transfers by a total of $2,500 to keep the electric department paying its fair share of town costs.
The council asked Sabiston to explore options for phasing out the $315,000 chunk, perhaps 50 percent one year and 50 percent the next.
The water department, an income generator, also transfers money to the general fund – about $420,000 this year. Ashley asked Sabiston to look into phasing out that transfer too.
Mayor John Lampe pointed out that Smithfield already charges less for water than the county.
Ashley said he wanted the town’s water and electricity rates to be as low as possible. “My goal is for both those funds to become self-sustaining, self-sufficient,” he said.
Sabiston said he could easily lower the electric-fund transfer by $63,000 because of anticipated higher revenue from other sources. He was less certain about getting to the council’s preferred cut of $150,000.
Sabiston’s budget proposal doesn’t call for lower electricity rates despite reducing the transfer. Sabiston said he wants to revisit electric rates next year and perhaps make a substantial cut then.
Tim Johnson, parks and recreation director, showed the town council a plan for improving Smith-Collins Park. At an earlier meeting, the council voted to spend $20,000 on improvements. The decision came after Councilman Marlon Lee showed photos of the park in disrepair.
At its meeting last week, the council agreed to spend $16,000 on specific improvements, reserving the rest to spend later.
The money will:
• Build a fence around most of the park, defining parking spaces and leaving open the space near the baseball field for parking.
• Renovate the concession stand, including a new roof, door, windows and plumbing
• Replace the backboards and rims of the basketball goals.
Councilman Roger Wood asked why the council has to approve new hires even when their jobs are in the budget. He said it takes up time during Town Council meetings.
Sabiston said the council made that move to prevent abuse, a response to Smithfield’s pay-raise scandal.
Police Chief Michael Scott said the process has made him lose potential hires. He sometimes has to wait three weeks – until the next council meeting – to make a hire, and some candidates take other jobs in the meantime. The fire department has a similar problem.
The council agreed to stop approving new hires. Instead, department heads will list new hires in their monthly report.
The town manager’s proposed budget includes three new part-time positions in the fire department.