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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alternative energy is coming, like it or not

The big surprise at the April 27 Planning Commission meeting is the Whalerock wind turbine project isn't going down without a fight. The crowd probably expected the usual Charlestown farce - pretending to consider the project on its merits while its fate is a foregone conclusion.

The Planning Commission wasn't expecting Larry LeBlanc's lawyer to call them out for their blatant bias and questionable process. Kate Waterman was certainly not expecting to be directly challenged for her own past remarks even though they spoke volumes about her bias against wind power. The commssioners certainly weren't expecting a challenge to their legitimacy to reign supreme over what lives and what dies in Charlestown.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding and Short Takes

Another Update: a federal appeals court decision allowed the NFL owners to reestablish their "lock-out" of the players on last night. By 2-1, the 8th Circuit Appeals Court granted the NFL owners a "stay" against the effects of earlier lower court rulings against the owners and for the players. The owners filed the appeal with the 8th Circuit because of its reputation for being anti-union. Still, the justices vote was split. Though the lock-out seems to be back, players and managers across the league are confused about its impact on the draft and training camps.

SEE UPDATE, below on the surprises at last night's Planning Commission roast of the Whalerock project.

House of Love. If you plan to watch the Royal Wedding tomorrow, this viral video is a must-see. If you haven't seen this already, you've probably heard about it.

Right on, Mrs. Krantz. Bernice Krantz, a CCA founder and steering committee member  wrote an outstanding letter printed in today's Providence Journal. She skewers birthers, Donald Trump and bigots.

Birther Wingnuts Who Still Don't Believe

Yesterday Will posted the long-form version of Obama's birth certificate previously not released by the State of Hawaii. I have been positively amused by some of the responses and Steve Avlon's article (Obama's Birth Certificate and the Birther Wingnuts Who Still Don't Believe - The Daily Beast) gives a good summary. Here are some excerpts.

Donald Trump declared “I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish"—and, just in case anybody missed the self-congratulation, “ I really did a great job.” This is the political equivalent of lighting a house on fire, calling 911 and then expecting a medal.

The author of the spectacularly ill-timed and ill-titled Where’s the Birth Certificate? Jerome Corsi, tried to save face by moving the goal posts for marketing purposes: “Public pressure finally forced Obama to do what he did today. Now the game begins. Nixon thought he could stop the Watergate scandal from unfolding by releasing a few tapes. All that did was fuel the fire… When people read the book, they will see that Obama is not eligible to be president."
The queen of the birthers, Orly Taitz, tried a similar tack, calling the birth certificate’s release “a step in the right direction, just like the release of the Watergate tapes was a step in the right direction by Richard Nixon... 
As Jonathan Swift warned centuries ago, “you cannot reason a person out of something they were not reasoned into.”
Mitt Romney released a short statement via Twitter criticizing the president for releasing the document: "What President Obama should really be releasing is a jobs plan." Sarah Palin took a break from playing the victim to play blame-the-victim, tweeting “…Don't let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?" (And what’s with the Canadian ‘eh’ tick, Ms. Real America?)
Oh I see Mitt, like the Republican jobs plan? Things like cutting family planning services, spending undue attention to a likely-indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, etc.?
History will be more unforgiving and see the birther conspiracy more clearly than we have in our contemporary debates. It will be hard to miss the fact that so much time and energy was spent trying to prove the illegitimacy and un-American-ness of our first black president. It will seem shameful. And it is.
Author: Tom Ferrio with loads of help (in italics) from The Daily Beast

How energy subsidies really work

Steve Stolle of Charlestown wrote a letter published in the April 26 Westerly Sun . In that letter, Mr. Stolle lambasts government subsidies for wind power development and especially the $750,000 grant that Charlestown could have used for municipal wind turbines at Ninigret Park. Because of the town’s anti-wind ordinance, we had to forfeit that grant.

Like many opponents of alternative energy, he says wind energy apparently fails to make enough economic sense to garner sufficient funding by itself.” 

Here’s a question for Mr. Stolle: give us a list of energy technologies that DON’T receive government subsidies and special treatment in the marketplace. Oil & gas? Nope. Nuclear power? Nope. Coal? Nope.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in direct federal subsidies from 2002-2008 compared to only $29 billion for renewable technology. Nearly all of the federal subsidies for fossil fuel development are permanently written into the US Tax Code.

The nuclear power industry has received over 30 federal subsidies over the past 50 years and could not survive without them. The nuclear industry gets between $455 million and $1.1 billion every year just for decommissioning alone. Most subsidies to the nuclear industry involve shifting risk and liability away from industry and onto the government or public.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wind energy auto da fé continues

UPDATE: I was wrong. Last night, Whalerock showed plenty of spunk and pulled off a big surprise, causing the Planning Commission meeting to be abruptly stopped at mid-point. Whalerock's lawyer skewered the Planning Commission for its gross bias (the point I've been raising all along) and challenged its authority. I was expecting another Larry LeBlanc roast, but instead it looks like the CCA will need a bigger harpoon if it intends to finish off this project. I still feel that this particular wind project is impractical and hope that at some point soon, Charlestown citizens will focus on a much needed comprehensive strategy for alternative energy. 

When I worked as a professional community organizer, we had lots of insider tricks we used to make ourselves look good (like counting people twice if they stepped out for a smoke and came back in again). We called that an "organizer's count."

Another one of the tricks of the trade is to win the same issue over and over and over again. This seems to be the Charlestown Citizens Alliance's plan with wind energy. Every three or four weeks, through its wholly owned subsidies, the Planning Commission and Town Council, the CCA is raising and then defeating wind energy development.

Tonight, according to the latest CCA e-bleat, the Planning Commission is holding an IMPORTANT MEETING ON WIND TURBINES (their emphasis), this time on the Whalerock project. It's at 7 PM at Town Hall (bring your pitchforks) but will probably be moved to Charlestown Elementary. Since everybody likes to watch a grim public execution, there's likely going to be a good turn-out.

Right-Wingers: Satisfied?

Now shut up!

Bob Watson - Dude!

I know every media outlet in southern New England - and a lot of national media too - are covering the hapless tale of House Republican leader Bob Watson (East, West Greenwich). But I can't resist piling on. Not that I want to revel in the misery of others, unless of course they annoy me.

Watson has been an obnoxious blowhard, insulting and badgering public workers, marriage equality advocates, immigrants and even supporters of medical marijuana and legalized marijuana use. Dude - you are one amazing hypocrite!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Earth Day Lobbying Day tomorrow

Hello, Charlestown policy wonks.

Click
here for material for tomorrow's earth-day lobbying by the Environment Council of Rhode Island.

You will notice that there's a lot of Rep. Donna Walsh's environmental work on the agenda.

Of particular interest to Charlestown:

"Onsite Wastewater Treatment Improvements. Sponsor- Walsh(H5801) Under this bill, substandard septic systems would be brought up to state standards or tied into local sewer systems within one year of the sale of a property. Scheduled for hearing on 4/7."

And for our own green-town initiative:
"Energy Independence and Climate Solutions Act. Sponsors- Handy(H5887),
Walaska(S724). This bill establishes limits of greenhouse gas pollution in Rhode Island, reducing levels 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, and will increase jobs and investment in the clean energy economy. H5887 scheduled for hearing on 4/7, S724 on 4/13."

I am planning to be there. Hope you will be, too.
Author: Regina DeAngelo

Class War Resumes: Pay up to prop up absentee owner home values

The April 22th issue of the South County Independent carried a letter by Charlestown Town Council President Tom Gentz and Arthur Ganz, president of the Salt Pond Coalition. Gentz (not Ganz) is also Secretary of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance which is a story in itself.

Gentz and Ganz wrote about the state’s failure to dredge and maintain the Charlestown Breachway so as not to undo the work done by the Corps of Engineers to revitalize Ninigret Pond.

It Takes a Community to Raise a Building

Sometime soon, the Charlestown Historical Society will be asking the community to help raise a building – Charlestown’s first historical museum.

A little history about the CHS:

Old Indian Schoolhouse
October 24, 1968 - Charlestown Historical Society was formed.  The vandalism and subsequent destruction of the Old Indian Schoolhouse was the driving force that prompted concerned citizens to form the Society.


1972 - Ernestine Swanson donated the District #2 Schoolhouse in Quonochontaug to the Society.



1838 District #2 Schoolhouse
 1973 – The 1838 Schoolhouse was moved to its current location with a low-cost lease of 10,000 sq. ft. of land by Cross’ Mills Library Board of Trustees.

1977 - CHS receives $5,000 from the Charlestown Bicentennial Committee for the purpose building a permanent museum to store and display the town’s historical items and archives.  Unfortunately, for various reasons, this vision of a museum for Charlestown never became a reality.  However, this original $5,000 has grown and is now “seed money” for the new museum.

2010 - Thirty-four years after the initial vision of a museum for Charlestown, the Society was granted a generous 99-year lease on land adjacent to the schoolhouse.  Planning and fundraising began in earnest.

2011 - One year later, almost half of the total goal of $140,000 has been raised.  At its recent meeting the CHS Board unanimously voted to begin construction with the goal of completing all exterior work this summer.  Interior finishing will begin as soon as the additional funds are raised.

IT TAKES A COMMUNITY

Although the CHS has been diligently pursuing various grants from local foundations and large businesses, so far the $65,000 raised has been from individuals, small businesses and several local organizations that love Charlestown and want to preserve and display its history.  Our community should take great pride in this generous support.

TO RAISE A BUILDING

Once the groundbreaking takes place and the foundation is completed, the CHS will again be seeking help from the community.  Our town’s first historic museum will be built the old-fashioned, barn-raising way – with friends and neighbors.  So, when the call goes out, consider spending an afternoon pounding nails.  No experience – no problem!!!  There will be knowledgeable builders on hand to help you.   This will be your chance to participate in Charlestown’s history.

Artist's Rendering of New Museum


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Author: Suzanne Ferrio

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thank you, Jodi LaCroix!

After 30 years of government service, 25 of those in Charlestown, Town Clerk Jodi LaCroix is retiring and moving to Chattanooga with her husband and daughter.

Many of us celebrated with Jodi and her family tonight at the Meadowbrook Inn. Friends and colleagues stepped up to tell Jodi stories and crack jokes. Jodi also walked away with a box full of commendations and awards, a really nice print from the Charlestown Historical Society and our gratitude.

At the end of the evening, Jodi turned the tables, telling her own stories and handing out gag gifts to her colleagues, singling out her protege Amy Rose Weinreich. Jodi, quite rightfully, told the audience of her hope that Amy will be appointed to succeed her and passed a very classy $9.99 torch to her.
Rep. Donna Walsh (left) presents a congratulatory resolution by the House of Representatives to Jodi
It is quite an achievement for Jodi to have served this town for so many years, and to have seen so much, without having to go into witness protection. Instead, in Chattanooga, she will need to learn a whole new culture. No more clam cakes. No more coffee milk. In Chattanooga, the only way to get Peeps® is chicken-fried.

Jodi will need to learn a new language and change her name to something like Jo Jo. Double names are mandatory south of Maryland. I told Jodi that nobody in Tennessee will be able to spell "Lacroix" so she should consider something less alien like "LeRoy." As in Jo Jo Leroy.

Well, again, thank you, Jodi and y'all come back.

Author: Will Collette

A Cornucopia of Farmers’ Markets

kawr-nuh-koh-pee-uh; noun; 
an abundant, overflowing supply.

Many of us in Charlestown have really appreciated the Friday Farmers’ Market organized by the Charlestown Land Trust at the Charlestown Public Library. (Also on Facebook.) The market will be starting up again this year on June 17 and will be running each Friday from 9 am until noon through September 9.


But that’s not all!

With the success of the Friday morning market the Land Trust asked the farmers what they thought about adding another session on Tuesday evenings. They got an enthusiastic response so this year the Charlestown Land Trust will sponsor an additional Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays from 4 until 7 pm!

But that’s still not all!

Bob is busted!

Watson's mug shot
UPDATE: Watson vehemently denies he did anything wrong, although he does admit to trace evidence of pot in his vehicle. He says he passed an alcohol breathalyzer test, though what that has to do with marijuana use escapes me. He says "These events will be addressed fully in the proper legal forum" later. Possible legal defenses: "I didn’t inhale….that wasn’t my dope….FASCISTS!” or, if he wants to use the great defense pioneered by former DC Mayor Marion Barry, "The bitch set me up!"


Peeps Wrap-up for 2011

After spending most of my spare time today reviewing additional newspapers' Peeps® contests, I am now ready to close Progressive Charlestown 2011 coverage of Peeps® art. Generally, the Peeps® shows I reviewed today were crap. Not up to this blog's demanding standards. Not even up to mine.

But I did find two worthy additions.

The first comes from the Syracuse Post-Standard where the winning contestant combined in one tableau two of the four basic food groups - Peeps® and pizza.

The second doesn't come from a contest, but rather from a contestant - members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) entered the Washington Post contest with a truly outstanding Peeps® diorama depicting the Solidarity struggles at the Wisconsin State Capitol against their union-busting Governor Scott Walker. I love it. The Post didn't.


Peeparoni Peepza from the Syracuse Post-Standard
 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Peeps Winners Announced!

Announcements for the winners of some of the 2011 Peeps® contests are starting to come in.

First place in the only local contest (the New London Day) goes to the Atria Crossroads Seniors in Waterford for the entry below. See all 90 "approved" entries here. There's no link for the ones that weren't approved so you'll have to use your imagination.

US Coast Guard Academy Peeps-Mencement (I didn't make up this title)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tax comparision numbers updated

Based on the new tax rate figure published by the Town Council in yesterday's Westerly Sun (page 3 legal notice), I have updated my April 18th posting that offers a comparison of what the new tax rate will do to three representative samples of Charlestown residents.

Latest Charlestown Tax Rate Update and Important Dates

I'm supposed to be the numbers geek here but I don't seem to be keeping up. Charlestown published the official budget review notice in the newspapers this week with a new proposed tax rate of $9.04 per $1000 valuation. This is a dime higher than the last $8.95 rate that I heard in late March. 
 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Delayed Opening for The Breachway Grill

Update: In a comment, Josh tells us that The Breachway Grill opened on Friday, May 6. Thanks Josh!


On March 16, I introduced the new restaurant planned for Charlestown. At the time it looked like it would be open by mid-April. In fact Craig and Andrew had a very successful pre-opening party on April 16.


But paperwork from the State has been held up pending clearing up some paperwork with the owner of the prior restaurant in that leased space. I don't know why that should matter but that seems to be what is holding things up.

Craig told me that the town staff has been positively wonderful, completely helpful at helping him get up and running. As for the State permits, an optimistic schedule will get everything done in the next week. I certainly hope it doesn't turn into the type of delayed opening that doomed Flip Flops.

I will write another article when I hear a new opening date.

Author: Tom Ferrio

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Celebrate Earth Day in Charlestown

Friday is the 41st anniversary of Earth Day and leave it to Charlestown to go all out to celebrate!
 
BANNED IN CHARLESTOWN!
(c) iseeum

Hard on the heels of the Town Council's March 14th vote to kill wind power development in town, the May 5 Town Council agenda shows that they plan to kill it again. Ill Wind RI, our stalwart local NIMBYs, feels the March 14th version of the wind turbine ban is too lax - e.g. the set-back is only 3-to-1, meaning that if a fallen turbine bounces more than three times, somebody could get hurt. So let's make the set-back 7-to-1. Or 100 miles.

Also, the Town Council plans to bring this ordinance to a re-vote every couple of months just to keep the no-winders fired up and to earn their approval every time they vote for it.

The Ninigret Park wind turbine project - which would have powered town buildings, such as the police station - forfeited $750,000 in grant money due to the restrictive terms in the March 14th ordinance.

But no problem. Charlestown no-winders plan to revive the 1978 nuclear power plant proposal. Town residents defeated that project which would have put the nuke roughly where the wind turbines are slated to go. Charlestown no-winders hope to lure the two mega-watt 50-year old nuclear reactor at the URI Bay Campus to Ninigret, since some folks in Narragansett are nervous about having an old nuclear reactor in their neighborhood.

Moving the URI nuke down US 1 from Narragansett to Ninigret will have a serious impact on traffic, however.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New tax rates affect households differently

UPDATE: When the town published the official notice of the June 6 Financial Election, they posted a higher tax rate than the rate initially recommended. Instead of going from the current rate of $7.48 per $1000 of value to $8.95 as had been proposed, the new rate published in the notice is $9.04. This additional nine cent hike adds about 1% to every property owner's tax bill. I have updated the numbers in this post to reflect that new rate.

Charlestown’s tax rate – the amount of tax you must pay for every $1000 of assessed property value - is going from $7.48 to $9.04 $8.95 on July 1. That increase of $1.54 $1.47 looks like a jump of almost 21% 20% but it’s actually driven almost entirely by the drop in the town’s overall property values of $400 million and the need to adjust the mil rate to compensate. Only 21 cents out of the increase is due to increased town operating costs.

Our recent reassessment led to a drop of around 15% in the total value of property in town - $400 million gone pooooof due to the Recession, though our town is still worth more than $2.3 billion.

But let's focus on the disparity in the impact of these numbers on different families with different types of houses. The average middle-income home dropped about 13% in value while the average millionaire home dropped by about 20%. That translates into big differences in who pays the town’s taxes – and a major shift of the tax burden from non-resident millionaires to middle-income permanent residents.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hoping for a tax refund

The White House has a neat little computer tool you can use to see where your tax dollars go. You plug in how much you are paying in federal income tax and you get a “receipt” showing what those taxes bought.

I used it and my “receipt” said that 26.3% of my taxes went to maintain our military. By comparison, the receipt said we spent 2.1% on defending the environment. 1.2% went for scientific research. 4.8% was spent on education and job training.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How to become a Florida resident

As the deadline approaches for state and federal income taxes (April 18th this year), some of you may be thinking, "how do I join other wealthy Rhode Islanders and get me some of that Florida no-income-tax sunshine?" Why just sit and envy your neighbors with their sharp looking Florida license plates on their Cadillacs, Acuras or Hyundais?

Becoming a Florida resident is simple and easy. Let's take a typical Florida locale like, choosing at random, Martin County, FL. First, you need an address. You can easily pick up a cute little condo, especially now that Florida real estate prices have tanked more than most parts of the country. For example, a 1300 square foot condo on the water would have cost you $105,000 two years ago. Today, it's assessed at only $75,000.

And with a little looking, you could probably find an even cheaper place to hang your tax return. RealtyTrac lists 143 bank-owned properties just in Stuart, FL alone. Twelve of them are listed for less than $50,000, including one gem on Ocean Boulevard that can be yours for just $28,720! And you could do even better - there are 32 Stuart properties coming up for Sheriff's Sale.

The great thing about Florida is that you don't even have to live there to be a resident. There is no requirement on how many days you spend in your new Florida hacienda. You could show up once a year just to check to see if the termites ate your place and that's fine with Florida.

You automatically become a Florida resident by (a) getting a Florida job; (b) sending your kids to a Florida school; or (c) registering to vote. You can file a simple Declaration of Domicile form, showing a phone or utility bill and a picture ID to establish that you have an honest to God Florida residence. You will need to file your federal income taxes from your Florida address.

So, it's pretty simple to become a Floridian. But - here's the key question - what if you want the best of both worlds? What if you want to live in Rhode Island but be taxed as a Floridian? Remember this number: 183. Let's say somebody dropped a dime on you, under RI Division of Taxation regulations, you can be required to present proof that you have lived outside of Rhode Island for 183 day or more. On the other hand, if you have lived in Rhode Island for 183 days or more, you are a Rhode Islander. Capice?

Author: Will Collette

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Emergency Action Needed!

According to the town assessor's data, 418 millionaire property owners in Charlestown had the assessments cut on their properties by an average of 20%. Only 41 of them - all in the lower millionaire bracket and none in the $3.5 million-plus bracket  - received assessment increases.

You're sitting on your veranda and watching the tide go out when suddenly, your maid brings you a silver salver holding a letter from the town. Your Shady Harbor estate is no longer worth $5 million. The town now considers your beloved home to only be worth $4 million. You pass out and fall face first into a bucket of caviar. Oh the humanity!

On the CCA e-mails, you can actually read the tragic stories of humiliated South of One millionaires crying about their lowered assessments.

I feel so moved by their plight that I demand our Town Council take swift and immediate action. I believe the Town Council needs to enact the following as an emergency ordinance.

The Town Council of the Town of Charlestown hereby ordains that Chapter 58 of the Code of Ordinances, Town of Charlestown entitled Tax Assessment Review, is amended as follows:

     § 58-7. Appeals of assessments.
     ....
K. Any person owning property assessed at one million dollars or more who feels the town has insulted their dignity by reducing that assessment may be granted an increase of up to fifty percent (50%) more than their original assessment upon written request and without dispute from the town.

Author: Will Collette

Jobs and Housing Make People Leave, Not Taxes

Oh boy, there are going to be some angry people over at the RI Stateline Coalition (RISC) office. That's over at 3949 Old Post Road here in town. After a year of touting a "study" by OSPRI that claimed to show that Rhode Island's taxes were forcing rich people to move away to Florida and the like, yet another new study shows that this story is simply not true.

The University of Massachusetts study looked at all six New England states together and individually and relied on a detailed analysis of patterns shown in US census data to draw its conclusions. This methodology contrasted sharply with OSPRI's scientific method which was to survey the friends of RISC founder Harry Staley and Hasbro honcho Alan Hassenfeld.

For a summary of the report's findings on Rhode Island, click here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peeps® Winners Announced!

This morning, the Washington Post revealed the winners in its annual Peeps® contest. For this and all 35 runners-up, click on this link.

Click on the image to enlarge
The top prize goes to "Chilean CoPeepago Mine Rescue," which depicts the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that thrilled the world. I am thrilled by these Peeps! Copyright: The Washington Post.

Wind Power Saves Lives

I have wanted to write about wind power but I've hesitated. It’s a combination of mixed feelings about the wisdom of commercial wind power in Charlestown along with a large backlog of other things to write about. (Every Town Council meeting adds to the list.)

But an editorial in Tuesday’s Providence Journal, by James R. RePass, motivated me to find a little time for this topic. It was just about a year ago that I received an email from some dear friends – they had “won” a week in a rental house in France at a charity auction and were inviting me and my entire research and photography staff to join them.

So off we went to Embres-et-Castelmaure!

Bring on the crazy!

The world of politics seems to be getting even crazier, if that's possible. It's now normal to call school teachers, police officers and fire fighters the villains in the on-going persecution of millionaires and billionaires. It's now ok to consider throwing senior citizens and the disabled under the bus rather than raise taxes on the filthy, stinking rich.


South of One millionaires cry crocodile tears that their seaside mansions haven't been assessed high enough, although they still don't want to pay taxes for schools.


Donald Trump is tied for first place in polling among Republicans as their choice to be President in 2012 (and almost as crazy, Trump's co-leader is Mike Huckabee).

I could go on (and will) but first an important announcement. On Wednesday, April 13th, the Washington Post announces the winners of its annual Peeps® contest. This is almost as big a day for me as International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19).

Now, back to the crazy....

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Beaches

That was the title of the presentation, at last night’s Town Council meeting, from the ad hoc Beach Structure Committee.

The goal of the committee was to develop a plan to move our beach facilities out of third-world status and give a boost to the vacation image of our town. As others doing construction now have learned, this is the ideal time to get aggressive, low pricing on construction costs.

The committee looked at two alternatives that would be installed at each or our two beaches: 1) trailer toilets, basically new versions of the ones we have that need replacing and 2) a permanent structure. The trailers would cost about one-third that of a permanent structure but would have to be replaced about every 10 years.

Current Town Beach Facilities
Not what you would put on a Charlestown propotional flyer
A new "portable" facility would be much like this

Current state of Blue Shutters facility
The interior is now considered unusable

In approximate terms, the portable units would cost us about 2.5 cents per $1,000 of property valuation in taxes each year while the fixed construction would cost us about 3.5 cents. That translates to about $10 per year more in taxes for a $300,000 home for the permanent building.

The big difference is in the resulting appeal of our beach facilities as you can see by comparing our current “portable” unit to the concept drawing of the permanent building below (you can click on it for a larger view). The Parks & Rec director was questioned about whether our town beaches have more capacity, if this makes the beaches more popular, and he explained that they have been running at about half of capacity on weekdays.

Two views of the proposed new facility
Identical ones would be built at the two beaches
This is something I can see in a Charlestown promotional flyer!

The town council voted on Monday night to bring the permanent structure, not the purchase of new portables, to the voters for approval of a bond to fund the construction. The vote will likely be at the same time as approval of the 2011-2012 budget.

We will be reporting more on this but I wanted to get the information out as soon as possible.

Author: Tom Ferrio

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Class War: Science offers an explanation

In the Current Biology (which I read mainly for their movie reviews) April 7th issue , a team of British scientists unveiled new findings on how differences in the physical structure of the brain affect political orientation.

Conservatives tend to have larger right amygdalas, the part of the brain associated with threat recognition, fear and anxiety. Liberals tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes indicating a greater ability to process conflicting information and adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. I'm not making this up.

The report notes many psychological studies showing conservatives to be more threat-reactive and liberals more open to new experiences, but that their study shows a physical cause for these differences.

But, you don't need to read Current Biology to know there's a big difference in the way, for example, Progressive Charlestown looks at the world compared to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. For instance, at Progressive Charlestown, we've focused on how new assessments will shift the town's tax burden from rich landowners to middle-class residents. By contrast, CCA focused on rich landowners' fears that their seaside estates were under-valued.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

YMCA Land Use Concept

Yesterday I reported on the Thursday night continuation of the YMCA Land Use Hearing. At that time I did not have a copy of the development concepts presented by the conservation planner that Ted Veazey hired. I think they are interesting enough to include here.


You can click on the image to get a larger view or right-click and select Open Link in New Window.

This concept puts a loop road along Prosser Trail to avoid the usual rectangular lots lined up on the road, leaving more green buffer there. The remainder of the homes are clustered in the part of the lot containing many of the current 15 decaying camp buildings. Fifteen of the 27 acres would end up as protected space including large buffers around the lake-front wetlands. The building shown near the lake is an existing shelter/gazebo.  From discussion I heard at the hearing, this is the concept most likely to pass muster with the town because it appears to fit well with existing zoning options.

Class War continues: Kallie Speaks?

Tom and I have been posting detailed information and commentary about Charlestown’s impending property tax shake-up since March 19th when the new property assessments hit residents’ mailboxes.

We predicted to within a penny how much the tax rate would have to rise to make up for a $400 million drop in property values. We created the unique Progressive Charlestown Magic Tax Calculator that allows you to figure out how much your new taxes will be. We showed how the new tax rate will mean major tax increases for middle-class residents, while Charlestown’s millionaire elite, many of them non-residents, will see their taxes drop.

We’ve been waiting for Charlestown’s de facto rulers, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, to weigh in. To say something. To try to put their own spin on this major development. CCA has yet to put out anything official. The anonymous comments CCA has e-mailed out on the subject have had no coherent message.

But maybe that has changed. I’m not sure, but it sure seems to me that CCA President Kallie Jurgens, a legal resident of Stuart, Florida, may have posted an anonymous comment on the CCA e-bleat. It sounds like her, or somebody using words and phrases Kallie has used before.

From CCA's April 2nd e-mail, here’s the anonymous comment I’m talking about:

  • First of all, thank you CCA. I would never know what is happening in Charlestown if it wasn't for your organization. I don' t know how you stay on top of everything! As for the tax re-evaluation. I am someone who lives  south of Route 1. For the past 15 years, my property evaluation has gone UP-- since my house value has skyrocketed. And not once did I heard anyone of the many neighbors I have all over town tell me, jeez, sorry about that. For those of my neighbors whose evaluations have gone up this year, I DO feel sorry. And it is true that almost 70% of the taxes paid to Charlestown come from homeowners south of Route 1. We, who do not put children in the schools, do not clog up the roads to the beaches, and don't demand anything but keep getting hit with higher and higher taxes. For once, that might not happen this year. But you can safely predict, it will happen next year as our home values go up in a rising economy. So, can we please stop pitting people against each other and focus on what's really important. Put forth a reasonable budget, maintain our services, care for the elderly, and keep Charlestown one of the best places to live.

OK, so the new assessments are a long-overdue redress of the injustice to South of One folks with mega-buck properties. We never shed a tear for them when their taxes were going up because their property values were skyrocketing. I concede that’s really true – that kind of problem never choked me up.

Plus, says the commenter, rich folks don’t send their kids to schools (nannies?), don’t clog the road to the beaches (private beach fronts?) and don’t ask for anything (no comment). So stop the class war, already, middle-class C-towners and take your beating.

But in fact, all through the period described by Kallie or the Kallie clone, these same oppressed rich people didn't just pay their taxes and smile. They organized the RI Shoreline Coalition to fight against town expenditures on things like the schools they don’t use, so they wouldn’t pay those high taxes. They demanded, among other things, that non-residents have the right to vote on town fiscal matters.

Well, Charlestown neighbors, maybe that’s the model we should follow. Maybe it’s time to organize our own Fair Tax campaign to give some relief to middle-class residents who are committed to living here.

Author: Will Collette

Friday, April 8, 2011

YMCA Land Use Hearing – Act 2

I attended, and even spoke at, the continuation of the YMCA Land Use Hearing on Thursday night.

While Democrats are idealized to want to hug every tree and oppose anything that smacks of development I have seen a lot of merit in the proposals of Ted Veazey as I previously reported here, here and here.

Unlike the first hearing, this time the Sonquipaug neighborhood of 1/10 acre lots to the south came out in force to express outrage to the plan to put 10 homes on the 27 acres of the unused and decaying former YMCA campground.

In this post I list some of the arguments and give my reactions. I also list the approximate text of my short speech. As usual you can watch the hearing on ClerkBase.

Lots of stuff to worry about

Circle the Wagons! Over the next several weeks, watch the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and RISC go berserk over a vote by the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee to allow a "Carcieri Fix" bill to go to the Senate floor. This bill would reverse the effect of the Supreme Court's decision in Feb 2009 in Carcieri v. Salazar. Without going into all the nuances, that 8-1 decision effectively blocked the Narragansett Tribe from being able to put land outside the jurisdiction of state and local law. The effect: anything the tribe wants to do in Charlestown has to get past Ruth Platner and her anti-everything commission. The new action in the Senate revives that primordial fear that somehow the Narragansetts will build a Foxwoods-sized casino, nuclear power plant, toxic waste dump or mammoth-sized McDonalds franchise in town. Well, before you start panicking, a Senate committee vote is just that. This Congress can't agree on anything, never mind enact a bill like this. Plus, can we not have a little more respect and trust in our tribal neighbors?

Speaking of South County Nukes, in the wake of Japan's post-earthquake nuclear crisis, a lot more attention is being given to the 2-megawatt nuclear power plant on URI's Bay Campus in Narragansett. Former state rep. Ray Rickman has asked Gov. Chafee to decommission the plant to protect us from a nuclear disaster and to save money.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Changes coming to Charlestown’s electoral map

The new 2010 Census numbers show Charlestown’s population declined by 0.4% even though South County led the rest of RI in population growth.

One of the consequences of the census is that C-Town’s legislative map will need to be re-drawn. Every 10 years, after every census, political maps must be changed to more or less equalize the number of voters in each district.

Two House of Representatives districts cover Charlestown – District 36 which is represented by Donna Walsh and District 39, represented by freshman Democrat Larry Valencia. (see map). Both districts cover a lot of territory and several towns. Donna’s district includes the most populated parts of Charlestown.

According to the new census numbers, Donna’s District 36 is now 936 people below the average population size per district in Rhode Island. However, all of the districts that touch District 36 have excess population. Larry Valencia’s District 39 is +683. Sam Azzinaro’s District 37 in Westerly is +410. Spencer Dickinson’s District 35 in South Kingstown is +694. Finally, there’s District 38 in Hopkinton, represented by Brian Patrick Kennedy which has 953 more people than the average House district.



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