Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera unveils her $20.4 million fiscal 2024 budget Monday, May 8, at City Hall. (Screenshot from centralfallsri.gov/)
CENTRAL FALLS — Rhode Island’s smallest city is making progress in building 200 new units of affordable housing, a bold goal that calls for creativity as well as commitment, its mayor said Monday.
Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera presented her $20.4 million proposed fiscal 2024 budget to the City Council Monday night, outlining the case for continued investment in housing programs. The spending plan, which represents a $1 million increase over the fiscal 2023 budget, would allocate almost $3 million in state revenue to fund programs in housing — including lead water line replacement — public safety, and recreation programs.
The budget would increase the property tax rate on non-owner occupied residential properties by 6.2% from $17.46 per $1,000 to $18.55. For owner-occupied properties, the rate would increase 3.2% from $12 to $12.38.
The tax rate for commercial properties — $28.75 per $1,000 of assessed value — and tangible property remains — at $38.32 per $1,000 — remain unchanged.
Rivera highlighted efforts to increase and rejuvenate city housing stock. Over the summer, she said Central Falls hopes to sell new single-family homes to city residents on Washington and Hood Streets built by students from Building Future — a Rhode Island nonprofit training construction workers.
New housing construction includes nine new town homes on Chestnut Street and groundbreaking on more than 130 new housing units on Roosevelt Avenue, Broad Street, Reed Avenue, and the former Broad Street School.
Rivera added she hopes to conclude a master plan for the mixed use Conant Thread/Coates & Clark Mill district — a joint project with Pawtucket to turn a 150-acre abandoned mill property into a transit oriented development district.
“Housing is happening here!” Rivera said.
There are 8,059 total housing units in Central Falls according to the 2021 American Community Survey five-year estimate, of which 7,074 are occupied. The housing stock in the 1.2 square mile city is among the oldest in Rhode Island, with over 79% of homes being built before 1980.
The budget proposal included a goal set by the Department of Law to funnel a minimum of five applicants per month into the Rhode Island Housing Lead Safe Homes program — a program financially helping homeowners remediate lead issues — and to bring over 200 “distinct properties” and 450 units into lead compliance.
“We need our existing homes safe for the families living in them,” Rivera said.
The city’s housing age recently garnered attention when data from the Rhode Island Department of Health revealed a 22% increase in lead poisoning cases among children in the city in 2020, rising from 388 in 2009 to 472, the only such increase in the state.
Statewide, only 2.5% of children in Rhode Island under the age of six were diagnosed with lead poisoning in 2020, a steep decline from 14% in 2009.
Older homes are much more likely to have lead water piping, increasing risks of childhood lead poisoning, with the federal government not prohibiting their use until 1986.
“We’re on track to certify another 200 units of housing to make sure that they are free of lead poisoning, and after winning a new grant that further invests in this work, we’ll be giving our residents even more resources and opportunities that support safer, healthier housing,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s budget proposal includes an increase of more than $600,000 for the Central Falls Police Department and Central Falls Fire Department, bringing their budgets to nearly $4.5 million and about $4.1 million respectively.
“I’m pleased to share that our city is even safer than last year – with crime already down 25% in 2023,” Rivera said. “And while our overall crime and violent crime rates are consistently the lowest they’ve been in decades, I want to do more to proactively protect our families.”
She credited the improvement to a combination of state and federal funds which brought body cameras to city police officers, as well as new red light cameras and speed bumps.
Central Falls Public Schools have been funded by the Rhode Island Department of Education since the 1990s when a financial crisis led to its takeover. Gov. Dan McKee proposed over $61 million for the school system in his proposed fiscal year 2024 budget, an increase of more than $2 million from fiscal year 2023.
Rivera highlighted a grant from the Rhode Island Department of Education enabling the city to hire a new after school program coordinator and the new almost $100 million high school the city hopes to open by fall 2025; replacing the now almost century-old high school on Summer Street.
“It’s no secret that education in Central Falls has been a topic of conversation as we make big strides forward,” Rivera said.
“We’re breaking ground on our highly-anticipated new high school this year, investing in the significant improvements at Calcutt Middle School, and planning for amazing facilities upgrades at all of our other school buildings.”
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