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Monday, December 12, 2011

UPDATED: Meeting preview: Town Council goes round and round, tonight

UPDATE: There may be a major roster change tonight. Reliable sources report that Jim Mageau is sidelined by illness and will not attend. That should cut the length of the meeting by at least a half an hour.
 Mageau's ally and cohort Council member Lisa DiBello has also been sidelined with an illness and may not be able to make the meeting tonight (no reliable scouting report on that). DiBello missed the big December 7 triple-header. If both she and Mageau are absent tonight, expect a short and relatively quiet meeting - except for potential rows by non-residents upset at the Democrats' proposed $1000 Homestead Tax Credit, and arguments over how to pay for the acquisition of the old YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond.  

By Will Collette

Homestead Tax Credit. This is a relatively new item, introduced for the first time last month when the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee made a presentation before the Council on its proposal for a $1000 Homestead Tax Credit for homeowners who make Charlestown their home. We’ve done a number of articles on this subject (click here to see them all). This proposal would give Charlestown residents a break by shifting the property tax load to non-resident property owners. Homestead tax breaks are common all across the US. Eight Rhode Island cities and towns offer them.

The first step the Town Council needs to consider is whether to pass a resolution requesting our state Representatives (Donna Walsh and Larry Valencia) get enabling legislation enacted in the General Assembly to grant the town permission to actually set up the tax credit. Once that state legislation is passed - and if the Town Council asks for it, it will pass - then the Council would have to enact an ordinance that determines when and how residents will get this tax break. Of course, if a majority of the Council blocks passage of the initial resolution, then town residents have no chance of getting the $1000 tax credit applied to their 2012 property tax bills. 

Please come out Monday night to support the Charlestown Democrat’s proposed Homestead $1000 Tax Credit. This will especially benefit low and moderate income homeowners who make Charlestown their permanent home.

Other items:

LATEST: MAGEAU UNLIKeLY TO ATTEND. In the lead-off spot, is Jim Mageau under “Persons Wishing to Be Heard.” I wish there was an agenda item dubbed “People I Wish Would Shut Up.” Mageau is listed to speak on his recent – and rare – “victory.” He scored a technical win recently when the Attorney General’s office ruled on one of his hundred or so complaints. 

The Attorney General's office ruled that, technically, when the Town Council did its evaluation last June of Town Administrator William DiLibero in the open, public session, rather than behind closed doors in Executive Session, it technically violated the Open Meetings Act. 

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering “how is it a violation of the Open Meetings Act to take a topic into the public view, rather than in closed session?” Well, if you haven’t advertised the meeting agenda that way, it’s a technical violation.

The Attorney General made the suggestion – not an order – that the Town Council should consider a do-over of DiLibero’s evaluation, and that’s exactly what the Council intends to do Monday night. But first, they have to listen to Mageau gloat over his big win and taunt them.

More on Friends of Ninigret Park. One of last month’s noisier topics – again, thanks to Mageau – was the phony flap over Friends of Ninigret Park, labeled a “shadow organization” by Mageau.

There are two spots on the agenda where Friends of Ninigret Park are going to be discussed.

First, there is an agenda item labeled “Discussion of IRS Publication 526 as it relates to the Friends of Ninigret Park.” This relates to heated discussion at the last two Council meetings over whether donations to Friends of Ninigret Park are tax-deductible. IRS Publication 526 explains how charitable tax deductions are made. In the previous Council discussions, the question came up whether donations to a town group are deductible. Publication 526 says yes. 

Here’s the relevant section from IRS Pub 526:

The United States or any state, the District of Columbia, a U.S. possession (including Puerto Rico), a political subdivision of a state or U.S. possession, or an Indian tribal government or any of its subdivisions that perform substantial government functions.

Note. To be deductible, your contribution to this type of organization must be made solely for public purposes.

Example 1. You contribute cash to your city's police department to be used as a reward for information about a crime. The city police department is a qualified organization, and your contribution is for a public purpose. You can deduct your contribution.

The way this is typically done is to write the check to the municipality and indicate the purpose of the donation, as in “Town of Charlestown/Friends of Ninigret Park.”

Later in the agenda is the likely enactment of a new town Ordinance 345 that makes Friends of Ninigret an official subcommittee of the Town’s Economic Improvement Commission. In past discussions, the opposition to Friends of Ninigret Park has been led by Mageau’s ally and proxy on the Council, Lisa DiBello. The Vegas line is 5-1 that this ordinance will pass 4-1, with DiBello opposed.

Also related to Ninigret Park. Parks & Recreation Director Jay Primiano is slated to make a presentation on funding the town is seeking to modernize the lighting at the Park, not only to save energy, but to practice what we preach when it comes to protecting our dark skies. Primiano wants the town to pursue a $180,000 grant for this purpose from RIDEM. To get the funding, the town would need to put up $90,000 in cash as a match. There is more than enough in the restricted Ninigret Park Fund - $158,874 to be exact, which includes the $23 that Frank Glista and his gang collected through Friends of Ninigret Park. The Vegas line predicts this proposal, despite its obvious merits, will be bitterly opposed by Council member Lisa DiBello and from the floor, by DiBello's ally Jim Mageau.

Affordable Housing. I have no prediction how this topic will go in the two spots where it will be discussed. There is an agenda item to discuss a process for the town to use to pick volunteers to serve on town commissions.

This often is not an issue because many town commissions are begging for volunteers to fill vacancies. But last month, the open seats on the Affordable Housing Commission were a hot topic when the CCA attempted to stack the Commission before the Commission took action on the Platner-Gentz Affordable Housing Deconstruction Act.

At the very last minute before the Town Council Agenda was closed, the CCA brought in three people to fill four openings on the Commission. Within 24 hours, another four people applied for those same vacancies. Now, in a rare event, there were seven people vying for four slots. Affordable Housing Commission chair Evelyn Smith suggested that the town hold off and look at all seven applicants, and pick the most qualified applicants. The CCA spokespeople insisted that “best qualified” and “first-come, first-picked” are pretty much interchangeable.

Others expressed outrage that anyone would actually take the published Town Council rule for commission appointments – that pesky “best qualified” thing – seriously. In the end, the Council voted in the three CCA people and left the other four hanging.

Ruth Platner - foiled again!
But two interesting things happened during the course of the month. First, the three new Affordable Housing Commission appointees turned out to be less opposed to affordable housing than expected. Second, they did not, as expected, rubber-stamp the radical Platner-Gentz plan to destroy the state’s affordable housing law. Instead, they came up with an alternative that focuses on one issue of near-consensus in town – curbing for-profit developers who use minimal compliance with the state law as a cover for mega-projects.

It is rare when something sensible like that happens – actually making decisions based on the merits.

Now, in addition to addressing how the town will fill the one remaining slot – when there are now eight people bidding for it – the Town Council will need to decide what it really wants to do with the product of the tough, bitter battle that came to a head last week at the Special Town Council meeting on December 7. I think it will interesting just to see how the parties to the debate spin the outcome.

Dunkin sign. This is a new item and could provide some fireworks. The Dunkin Donuts corporation has changed the design of the corporate logo. In line with that decision, the Dunk on Route 1 changed its signs to conform to corporate policy. But according to the Housing Inspector Joe Warner the new sign violates town zoning rules and, last April, Warner issued a Notice of Violation at the behest of the Planning Commission which HATES signs. That violation and the underlying town position is going to be challenged by well-known attorney about town Maggie Hogan. There is lots of potential for sparks to fly between Maggie Hogan and Planning Commissar Ruth Platner.

Joann D'Alcomo - leader of the
Sonquipaug NIMBY group
Show us the Money.I've expressed my view that before Charlestown taxpayers consider paying any portion of the $430,000 needed to buy the camp for open space, the local residents who killed the proposed conservation development need to put up at least half. The project they killed would have put 10-11 nice houses in a well-conserved setting with lots of green space and public access to the pond. That project would have added several million dollars to the town’s tax base. Instead, because of the Sonquipaug NIMBY group, Charlestown not only loses tax revenue, but the group wants taxpayers to pay almost half a million dollars more.

Bad idea. If they want the Y camp so bad, show us the money.

I will update this article as more information and documents become available.