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Friday, October 12, 2012

Fact-Checking the CCA: their new campaign letter, Part One

Few germs of truth within a plague of lies

By Will Collette

The CCA has a new campaign letter on the streets. In it, they attempt to explain and justify their record and their positions on the issues. The letter only covers the past two years, not the past four years during which elected CCA candidates have run Charlestown. Nor does it cover their six-year history of using personal attacks and character assassination to gain power and then hold it.

But that’s all right – we’ll cover that history, which the CCA would like you to conveniently forget.
Let’s take a line-by-line look at the CCA’s latest pitch.


THE CLAIM:

Dan Slattery - the CCA's poster boy for
openness, transparency and civility
THE FACTS: You’re supposed to start humming “America the Beautiful while reading this part, because only by humming that lovely anthem can you drown out the buzz from the CCA’s outrageous claim that they will “continue [SIC] open, transparent and accountable government that provides residents with civility and respect.”

Wow! Whoever wrote that is probably in intensive care after their pants burst into flames and their noses grew an extra 18 inches!

The current CCA government elected in 2010 ran against its own 2008 slate claiming that the 2008 CCA Town Council failed the openness, transparency, accountability and civility test.

Then the 2010 CCA Town Councilors engaged in secret, unauthorized investigations of citizens and smear campaigns against local businesses, repeatedly violated the state Open Meetings Act, withheld documents, redacted documents, concocted imaginary issues, invented documents, tried their hand at censorship, and carried out a campaign of character assassination to drive out the town administrator they had only just commended for competence and dedication. Then they publicly lied about what they did (click here for one example). And that’s just for starters.

Think Y-Gate. Think the Battle of Ninigret Park. Think the CCA’s “Kill Bill” Campaign. Think the CCA’s campaign against beach toilets.

NEXT CLAIM:

THE FACTS: The CCA is itself a political party for all practical purposes, albeit one that exists only here in Charlestown. It raises and spends money. It recruits candidates, runs campaigns, files campaign finance reports and runs campaigns against candidates it doesn’t like.

The CCA used to pride itself on its broad base – it used to brag, before this new letter came out, that it had Democrats, Republicans, independents and even a Moderate Party member. (Yes, Dan Slattery was until recently the state Treasurer for the Moderate Party – before that, he was a registered Democrat.)

Yeah, we're all non-partisan. Yeah.
Ruth Platner used to be a registered Republican. So were former CCA President and Treasurer Kallie and John Jurgens. George Tremblay donated to John McCain’s candidacy for President. Former CCA President Bernice Krantz and her husband Milton were staunch Democrats. In 2008, Gordon Foer told the Westerly Sun he was a Democrat.

There was a brief period when the CCA was far more of a “big tent” than they are now. Their 2008-2010 civil war changed that and turned the CCA into a closed society, insular, paranoid and defensive. They still cling to the rhetoric they used in the past, hoping no one will notice how much they have changed.

Their line about “preserving and protecting those assets that make Charlestown such a unique and treasured place to live” has multiple meanings.

On its face, it is a sentiment I think we all share – Charlestown is a very cool place to live and none of us want to lose that.

But there’s a deeper meaning in this for the CCA, and that’s their fear of any and all change. That’s why the CCA, especially on any effort led by Ruth Platner, not only resists anything new but actively seeks to push back the clock to some imagined past time when there were only a few settlers working their farms, overseeing their indentured servants, fending off hostile Indians and ferocious critters and communing with Nature.

This is the side of the CCA that hates families with children, that is afraid of affordable housing and that wants to set up a Charlestown Wall to keep the rest of the world at bay.

I love Charlestown and its beauty, but we live in a world where being hermits is not a practical option.
Let’s look at the points the CCA candidates say they are committed to.

THE NEXT CLAIM:

THE FACTS. Sure. All of the Charlestown Democratic candidates are for that, too and in fact, the Charlestown Democrats want to make taxes even lower. Town Dems opened the discussion by proposing to give each homeowner who makes Charlestown his or her home a Homestead Tax Credit, just like the kind many of our summer residents get in their home states.

A year ago, Charlestown Democrats proposed a detailed plan to do that to the CCA-controlled Town Council – a plan that would give a $1000 Homestead Tax Credit to every permanent Charlestown household, with no tax increase for town businesses and a modest tax increase for NONRESIDENT property owners.
You pay extra tax to subsidize the Shelter Harbor Golf Club's open space
zoning in Charlestown.

This proposal was inspired by the townwide revaluation of properties to reflect new market prices caused by the recession. This revaluation resulted in homes valuated at $1 million or more (two-thirds of those homes are owned by nonresidents) getting a 7% tax break compared to owners of homes in the $200K-$500K range.

The CCA Town Council majority crushed the Homestead proposal. They couldn’t find enough insulting – definitely not civil – terms to label the proposal, so they imported a couple dozen rich, nonresident property owners to come in and do it for them.

The CCA went squarely on the record as protectors of the interests of wealthy nonresidents who own second, third or fourth homes – or investment property – in Charlestown. When they talk about low tax rates, that’s who they want to be the beneficiaries, not the average middle-class family who make Charlestown their home.

But, wait, there’s MORE!

Your taxes are based on not just the tax rate, but also the assessment. As Alex Trebek says on Jeopardy, “that’s when the numbers really change!”

Of course, the first rule of real estate, including real estate assessments, is “location, location, location.” But location alone does not account for the incredible discrepancies in land assessments we see around Charlestown.

For example, the Shelter Harbor Golf Club’s taxes for its top-notch prime location are based on a land assessment of only $10,104 an acre. Then compare that to the home of CCA’s Town Council boss Tom Gentz, whose third of an acre house lot is assessed at the equivalent of $1,563,548 an acre. I’m not making this up.

Poor Tom!  

And poor Lisa DiBello. Her South of One home sits on land that is assessed at the equivalent of $514,828 an acre.

Even Mike Chambers, the “Voice of the CCA” and one of the most adamant critics of the Democratic Homestead proposal, pays his tax on an average per-acre assessment of $128,901. Yes, Mike, your assessment rate per acre is more than twelve times higher than the Shelter Harbor Golf Club. Do you still think the current Charlestown tax system is fair?

It makes me feel less disgruntled when I consider that I pay tax on a land assessment of $59,000 an acre on an undeveloped, wooded 2.5-acre lot. Next to it, the land our house sits on is assessed at an average of $57,000 an acre.

Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s taxes are based on a land assessment averaging only $8836 an acre.

Planning Commissioner and CCA Town Council candidate George Tremblay pays taxes based on a land assessment of only $3464 an acre.

Chateau Platner - assessed as a farm at an average of $8,836 an acre.
These low assessments come about through clever use of Charlestown’s tax code that make the assessments of the likes of Shelter Harbor, Platner and Tremblay much lower than that of the properties owned by ordinary citizens.

Check your own tax assessment in the Assessor’s database. Divide your land assessment (not the total and not the assessment of any buildings) by your total acreage and compare it to Shelter Harbor, Ruth Platner or George Tremblay. Then decide who is getting those low taxes.

The bottom line (pay attention, Mike) is that Charlestown’s present tax system doesn't look very fair, especially when you examine the wild disparities in average per acre assessments. When you consider the assessment of Shelter Harbor at just over $10,000 an acre and compare that to the similarly situated land Tom Gentz’s house sits on, with its $1.5 million an acre assessment, you see just how whacked Charlestown taxes really are.

I think we need to go back to the proposal town Democrats made last January after the CCA majority killed the Homestead Tax Credit: let's at least take a close and detailed look at how town taxes are structured. Let's not assume the system is fair just because the CCA says it is. 

Middle-class taxpayers deserve a break, except now, they are paying higher taxes to subsidize the Shelter Harbor Golf Club, Ruth Platner and George Tremblay. Even a one-percenter like Tom Gentz deserves a little parity.

The CCA is just fine with the system the way it is. If I was Platner, Tremblay or a Shelter Harbor Golf Club member, so would I.

END OF PART ONE. In Part two, we’ll look at the CCA’s claims regarding development, affordable housing, open space and the Narragansett Indians.