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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Y-Gate Scandal reaches critical point

Will Charlestown voters get to decide on $475,000 payout to Charlestown Land Trust?
By Will Collette

On May 7, there will be a public hearing at Town Hall at 7 PM on the proposed Charlestown budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1. See the official public hearing notice, including the major line items in the budget, at the end of this article.

The budget calls for a 2.87% hike in expenditures, largely due to increased costs for schooling children at Chariho and capital expenditures. It also calls for a property tax hike of 2.95%.


Hopefully, at this public hearing, we’ll get to explore two important questions about the decision to pay cash (rather than bond) this dubious deal I call Y-Gate: (1) WHY spend public money on it at all? And (2) Will Charlestown voters’ right to vote up or down on this deal be respected?



The overall budget goes to Charlestown voters on June 4. I asked Budget Commission Chair Richard Sartor and Acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson how the $475,000 Y-Gate matter will be presented to the voters. Will it be a standalone warrant item that allows voters to say yes or no to the deal on its own merits, the way we voted last year on the town beach pavilions that are now nearing completion?

Or will the $475,000 be buried in the budget, so voters must vote down the entire budget to express their disapproval of the deal? I’ve already heard from some angry taxpayers that they are willing to do that.

I am still waiting for an answer on the question. As of close of business Wednesday. Acting Town Administrator Anderson e-mailed me to say they are still researching it.

Progressive Charlestown has covered this issue extensively since it first emerged over a year ago. To understand and make informed decisions about what’s at stake, here is a recap:

The issue, in a nutshell, is about the fate of 27.5 acres of land on Watchaug Pond owned by the Westerly YMCA and occupied by an abandoned kids’ campground. The camp is covered with at least 17 run-down buildings, old septic systems, crumbling infrastructure and an unknown amount of hazardous building material. It is zoned Open Space/Recreational.

A year ago, the Y and a local property owner, Ted Veazey, came up with a plan for a conservation development that would have cleaned up the dilapidated property and turned it into a 10-house conservation development that was well-received by the neighbors to the north of the campground, Ruth Platner and the Planning Commission and the Director of  URI’s Water Quality Program.

However, CCA’s Planning Commissar, Ruth Platner, did one of her famous triple-flip back stabs and, with help from the Sonquipaug Associationout-of-state vacation home owners to the south of the camp – and the Charlestown Land Trust, ambushed and killed Veazey’s conservation development plan.

The alternative: a complicated scheme to use public money to acquire the derelict campground as “open space." The RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) would kick in a $367,000 grant. Charlestown taxpayers would “buy” a worthless conservation easement from the Charlestown Land Trust for $475,000. The Land Trust would raise $100,000 privately. Then the Land Trust would pay the Westerly YMCA $730,000 based on an appraisal that used admittedly false assumptions.

The extra cash after paying the YMCA’s inflated price – about $212,000 including the $100K the Land Trust pledged to raise – goes somewhere else yet to be identified.

The Sonquipaug neighborhood gets an extended back yard. The Charlestown Land Trust makes one of the biggest land scores in its history. The Westerly YMCA gets paid a lot more than the land is worth. State and Charlestown taxpayers get screwed.

You would think that before Charlestown taxpayers get totally screwed, they would be given a chance to expressly give their consent. For the screwing to be nonconsensual, well, there’s a word for that.

The Y-Gate deal is currently under court challenge by Dr.John Donoghue. In addition, RIDEM has not yet decided to release the second big chunk of financing for this awful deal – a state grant of $367,000. They are asking for a different appraisal – one that is based on conditions that are more realistic than the one our Town Council (and Budget Commission) accepted.

Now, if the town fails to give voters their fair chance to decide how their money will be spent, I think it’s pretty much a given that there may be more litigation, and certainly protests, over the highjacking of taxpayer money. The Town Council, the CCA, the Charlestown Land Trust and the Westerly YMCA will have to answer for that. The Sonquipaug people can just go back to Boston or wherever they live for most of the year.

In my opinion, the YMCA camp expenditure needs to go to the voters as a standalone issue. This is the only “honest, open and transparent” way to do it. Or as Deputy Dan Slattery might put it, “a moral, ethical and legal obligation.” And I would hope voters will not give their consent to being screwed.

TOWN OF CHARLESTOWN
NOTICE OF BUDGET PUBLIC HEARING
CHARLESTOWN TOWN HALL, 4540 SOUTH COUNTY TRAIL
May 7, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Home Rule Charter for the Town of Charlestown, notice is hereby given of the following proposed tentative budget and proposed warrant questions to be discussed at the Budget Public Hearing to be held on Monday, May 7, 2012 at the Charlestown Town Hall, 4540 South County Road, Charlestown, RI at 7:00 p.m.  (The Home Rule Charter Amendments do not allow the Town enough time to receive and certify petitions from electors before the deadline for publishing this Warrant; therefore, if petitions from electors are submitted after the deadline to publish this Warrant, they will be advertised on or before April 30, 2012. Pursuant to Article XXVI §C-86A, the electors of the town, qualified to vote, shall receive and discuss the proposed budget and warrant items from the Council in advance of the June 4, 2012 Financial Referendum.  Pursuant to Article XXVI, §C-86E, if there is a conflict between warrant items, the Moderator of the Public Hearing shall call for votes to determine which of the conflicting petitions for warrant items shall appear on the Financial Referendum ballot. Please note: The Charter does not allow for votes to be taken at this meeting except if there is a conflict between warrant items. Voting will be done at the June 4, 2012 Referendum.
2012-2013 Tentative Budget
as adopted by the Town Council on April 09, 2012

Account
Department/Commission

As Recommended
410
Town Council
$
24,450
420
Town Administrator

154,281
430
Election Unit

22,000
440
Treasurer

167,347
450
Tax Assessor

119,559
455
GIS

67,294
460
Tax Collector

99,959
470
Public Records

173,979
480
Town Planner

111,083
490
Central Service

220,520
510
Police Department

2,155,900
520
Building Inspector

150,931
530
Civil Defense

35,507
540
Animal Control

79,071
560
Public Assistance

13,100
570
Municipal Court

9,000
610
Public Works Administration

127,435
620
Highways and Roads

932,061
630
Building and Grounds

293,448
640
CRCC Mandated Monitoring

9,600
660
Public Works Wastewater Management

92,629
720
Outside Agencies

19,500
730
Local Agencies

382,050
740
Boards and Commissions

22,600
800
Senior Citizen/Community Center

92,441
810
Recreation Administration

127,521
815
Recreation Programs

82,302
820
Charlestown Beach

84,925
830
Ninigret Park

32,890
850
Blue Shutters Beach

72,425
900
Debt Service

627,199
920
Employee Benefits

1,943,401
940
Professional Services

340,100
950
Town Insurance

190,000
960
Council Contingency

127,147
990
Capital Improvements

796,063
995
Transfers Out

1,443,921
TOTAL MUNICIPAL BUDGET
$
11,443,639
TOTAL CHARIHO BUDGET
$
14,894,812
GRAND TOTAL MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOLS EXPENDITURES
$
26,338,451


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