Who is Gonna Pay for This? Just 9 Miles Apart, Providence and Barrington Provide a Case for Rethinking Local Budgeting
Barrington may be the only community in Rhode Island that not only did not cut back on library hours and services in 2011—it expanded them. What’s more, in 2012, it has continued to increase library funding.
The nearby city of Providence closed seven of its nine public libraries for a week this September because it needed to close a budget shortfall. Even before that closure, budget constraints had limited the hours at Providence libraries, making it difficult for people with full time jobs and their families to use this public service on most days.
This is just one example of how Providence and Barrington, located just nine miles apart, highlight the inequity of our locality-based budget system: The places most critically in need of the local services that facilitate economic growth and job attainment are the least likely to have the means to pay for them.
Rhode Island has 39 cities, each of which manages critical services (such as schools, public health, the promotion of tourism and business development, and law enforcement) needed for economic growth. As with most local governments in the U.S., the only taxation authority these cities have is a broadly defined property tax that covers houses, cars, boats, etc. (Such taxes make up 72 percent of Providence’s total revenue. Only 15 percent of the city’s revenue is funding from the state and the rest is made up of fees for services and the like). These sorts of “flat” taxes based on ownership are the norm for local governments across the country, with only a few exceptions.