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Monday, April 9, 2012

New Town Budget to debut at Monday Town Council meeting

Expenses and taxes to climb by almost 3%
Biggest part of the Charlestown
Budget is our share of the Chariho
School System.
VOTE Tuesday on the Chariho
Budget at Town Hall, 8 AM-8 PM
By Will Collette

The Charlestown Budget Commission will present its proposed budget to the Town Council for first action at the Council’s Monday, April 9 meeting.

The Budget Commission proposes a $26,338,451 budget for Fiscal Year 2013, which is an increase of $733,604 or 2.87%. You can read the entire proposed budget by clicking here.

A higher levy on Charlestown for the costs of the Chariho School system (+$623,966 or 2.95%) and increased capital expenditures (+$232,149 or 41.17%) account for nearly all of that increase.

Chariho’s increased cost is due primarily to cost shifting from Richmond to Charlestown because we are adding a few students while Richmond's student count declines slightly. This is based on the cost-sharing formula set up when the Chariho school district was created in the three towns (Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton).

VOTE on the Chariho Budget, Tuesday, April 10 at
Charlestown Town Hall, 8 AM- 8 PM
By law, Charlestown’s budget must be balanced, so the Budget Commission projects a required tax increase of 2.95% to raise an additional $623,966. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the increased amount of tax and the increased cost of Chariho come within $16.

Charlestown voters should look at the budget for themselves to see how we invest our tax dollars. By and large, I believe it’s money well spent.

I think it’s commendable that the operating costs of the town’s departments are down by 1.44% ($146,879) while still accommodating raises for town staff and increased costs of benefits. That shows some pretty good management, although as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

One item jumped out at me. If you look at the fifth page of the posted budget document, you will find the line item that shows the single largest jump in the entire budget. That’s the Town Council Contingency Fund.

The Council Contingency Fund is budgeted for an increase of 1,171.5%, jumping from $10,000 to a whopping $127,147. The last actual, audited expenditure for the Council Contingency Fund was $11,477 in FY2011. An increase of over ONE THOUSAND PERCENT - not a typo, or a joke.

The proposed FY2013 Budget also includes an anticipated outlay of $475,000 to complete the Y-Gate caper. If the budget is approved, Dr.Donoghue’s legal challenge fails, DEM goes through with the $367,000 in state funding and the leaders of the Charlestown Land Trust manage to stay out of jail, Charlestown will give the Land Trust $475,000 for a worthless conservation easement and the Land Trust will in turn give $730,000 to the Westerly YMCA to provide the non-residents who live in Sonquipaug with bigger backyards.

The actual $475,000 cost to buy Charlestown’s version of the Brooklyn Bridge will be spread out over time, but we will all have to pay the interest payments and pay off the principal on the money we borrow by selling bonds.

This year’s budget shows how that works. In the upcoming year, Charlestown will pay $250,000 toward the principal due on past open space bonds and another $160,388 in interest on those bonds. So the direct cost to taxpayers in the upcoming year for open space acquisition will be over $410,000.

Overall, the cost of Charlestown’s past borrowing in the upcoming year is going up by 4.05% (+$24,384).

Lastly, I note that Charlestown is still carrying “Injun Joe” Larisa, our hired legal gun to fight any and all things the Narragansett Indian tribe wants to do with its lands, on the books at his annual $24,600 retainer. That’s for doing nothing. If Larisa does anything on the town’s behalf, he adds his billable hours. The last time I checked, he billed at $130 an hour, plus costs.