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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sorry, Ruth, about that Pants on Fire! article

Scaling Platner's pique
By Will Collette

Ruth Platner is very upset with me and vented to the Westerly Sun about it. Among her many criticisms about me are some that involve the accuracy of my reporting. While I work hard to do the research and try to get it right, I am not perfect and occasionally make a mistake. I try to fix those errors as soon as I learn of them.

Indeed, Progressive Charlestown readers know that like any responsible, professional publication, we have always responded to reports of factual errors, received either via comments or email, by correcting the appropriate story and posting a notice to the reader explaining what was corrected and why. 

In fact, even when we’re not wrong but new information comes to light after we’ve posted a story, we note that as well. It’s curious that this complaint appears a few weeks before the election when we would have gladly fixed the mistake immediately any time in the last 11 months if we had been notified.

In the case of Platner’s complaint in the Sun, there was one (out of her 1138-word recitation) where she can rightly claim a “gotcha.” I did in fact attribute Platner’s incredibly low tax assessment of only $8,836 an acre, compared to, for example, my own per-acre assessment of $56,939, to her participation in the “Farm, Forest and Open Space” tax program.

Platner says she’s not covered under FFOS, although she left out the part that her low assessment is due to a deed restriction under which she and husband Cliff Vanover “are willing to devote the Premises to agricultural production.” 

How I could have confused that with the Farm, Forest and Open Space program is, I suppose in her eyes, inexcusable, though it seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. But in the interest of accurate reporting, I offer this correction that Platner gets her sweet tax deal not due to FFOS but due to the other thing....

Here’s an update of that November 2011 story where I directly connected Platner’s great tax deal with the FFOS program. Turns out that the same nonsense Platner and the CCA were spouting a year ago, they're still spouting today - and they want your vote to keep doing it.



UPDATED: Planning Commissar claims Charlestown median income is lower than state’s
By Will Collette

During the November 3, 2011 Planning Commission “workshop,” Commissar Ruth Platner pretty much took over the presentation that Town Council President (and fellow CCA leader) Tom Gentz had come to make on ways to gut the state’s affordable housing law. Let's review those arguments, because they are the same ones that Platner and the CCA are making in 2012.

For well over an hour, Platner made the pitch for radically changing the state law so that it is no longer a bother to those who share her view that Charlestown doesn’t need affordable housing. But, in an overabundance of enthusiasm to sell her point of view, Platner took a big leap when she claimed that she understands the town’s needs.

After all, she said, Charlestown is not a wealthy community, despite what everyone thinks. In fact, according to Platner, Charlestown median income is lower than the average for the state, so Charlestown is really at the low-income end of the state's wealth spectrum. 

No, Ruth, it isn’t. The state’s median household income is $55,567 and that’s for generally larger family sizes while Charlestown’s household median income is $73,857. That’s a difference of $18,290 or 33%. That median is likely to change, though, since the unemployment rate in Charlestown now places our town among the worst in the state and the worst among all rural towns.

Ruth also talked at length about town property values and how there are lots and lots of homes that are currently assessed at less than the state definition of affordable (just over $216,000). Like her house, which she said was assessed at only $203,100.

CORRECTED TEXT: But her home and the land it sits on got this low appraisal figure because of a special tax rate applied due to deed restrictions included in the deed with she and her husband bought the land at a bargain-basement price and now get the continuing benefit of low taxes.

So their 2,400-square-foot house, multiple outbuildings and 13.5 acres – which, by the way, includes Mount CliffyCharlestown’s highest elevation—are only assessed at $203,000 thanks to tax breaks that are not available to the average Charlestown working family.

Now that happens to be true, but Ruth and her husband Cliff also benefit from a huge tax exemption through the FFOS  program (Farm, Forest and Open Space) as well as an incredible deal that landed them their 13.5 acres for only $23,000. 

There is a general tax break available to other households with somewhat similar circumstances. While they might not get the same, unique tax break that Ruth Platner and Cliff Vanover got, it might help. I devoted an entire article to the FFOS program when I wrote a seven-part series on the various tax exemption and tax relief programs that are available to Charlestown taxpayers. 

I don’t begrudge Ruth and Cliffy’s good fortune and sweat equity – I think it’s great that they helped preserve that land near Great Swamp. But the Charlestown taxpayers deserve honesty from their elected officials – truth about the numbers and truth about who or what is average, and who and what is not.

Tom Gentz's starter house,
where he split rails and ate possum
Tom Gentz had little of substance to contribute to this long discussion about his own proposal - which we can now see is actually Platner's, and that Gentz is just her meat puppet.

One of Gentz's contributions to the discussion was a non sequitur that his first home was a "little starter house" that was only 30 x 60.

Hmmmm, 30 x 60? Let's do the math. That turns out to be 1800 square feet. Nice starter house, Tom. My wife and I lived 25 years in a house just over 900 square feet in the DC suburbs for 25 years before returning home to RI. Lots of people in this state would dream of living in Tom Gentz's 1800-square-foot log cabin. 

It’s time for Ruth Platner to come clean. Admit that YOU, not Tom Gentz, wrote this so-called evolutionary adjustment to the state law. You made it clear at the November 3 Planning Commission “workshop” that you are unalterably opposed to affordable housing. Every time you tried to distort reality and twist the facts, Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris (who usually goes along with you) called you on it.

NOTE: this article, written a year ago, describes the CCA's current crusade to overturn the state's affordable housing law or, at minimum, secure an exemption so Charlestown doesn't have to follow it. Not only will this effort fail – it had ZERO support last year – but it also brings shame on Charlestown, making us look like a bunch of spoiled brats.

This is what class war looks like, and the principal class warrior in Charlestown is none other than Ruth Platner.

In her honor, let’s all sing along with the Castaways (1965), one of the great one-hit bands (along with Question Mark and the Mysterians, also 1965 or 66, which I’ve thrown in just for fun). The Question Mark and the Mysterians clip is pretty weird - it's the original guys who are now about as old as Bob Dylan, doing what is obviously a very recent cover of their one hit.