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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Single Taxing District: Threat or Hoax?

Or paranoid CCA Party boogeyman?
By Will Collette

By now, every household in Charlestown should have received a “Special” edition of the Pipeline, the town’s official newsletter. Its production, printing and mailing has been paid for by your tax dollars.

You may be scratching your head wondering what this “Single Taxing District” threat is really all about – and if it’s for real. To save time, let’s call this “Single Taxing District” an “STD” for short, especially since the mailer depicts it to be about as welcome as gonorrhea.

You are right to wonder what this STD threat is really all about because the mailer does a terrible job of explaining what it is. But more importantly, it doesn’t say what the odds are of getting this STD or how you catch it. It also doesn’t say who is responsible for it – it simply makes the vague statement that “suggestions have been made” but not who made them.

The mailer makes it seem like poor little Charlestown was just walking down the road to one of the Chariho Schools, minding its own business, when it got jumped by two bullies, Richmond and Hopkinton, who then stole its lunch money. A very sad story, if only it was true.

The mailer talks about “proposed legislative action” but not only doesn’t say what that is but also ignores the fact that the General Assembly has adjourned for the year and no real legislative action, proposed or otherwise on any topic will happen until 2015 after the elections when a new General Assembly is sworn in.

Bullshit Other animated GIF
The mailer does not note that what little “legislative action” there was in this past General Assembly session made it clear that the idea of changing the Chariho Act in any way, shape or form will not happen unless all three Chariho towns agree, and the only thing the towns agree on is that, even though they don't like or trust each other, finances bind them together. The STD can’t happen just because somebody in one of the towns floats the idea as a trial balloon.

The STD mailer didn't tell you that it's a far-fetched threat that, even if it had any serious chance of happening, it would take a very long time and probably a major planetary alignment. But the real purpose of the STD mailer was to make you very afraid. Of a new bogeyman.

So why did the Town of Charlestown spend your money to produce, print and mail this flyer to every household?

Lies, Fear and Paranoia

Could it be that this is a campaign year? Could it be that even though the General Assembly session ended with no action on this hypothetical threat, the CCA Party is now gearing up for another election campaign grounded, as usual, on lies, fear and paranoia?

From the CCA Party Campaign Manual
Since the Charlestown Citizens Alliance was formed in 2006 and took over control of Charlestown in 2008, it has built its power by scaring the shit out of voters through fear of imaginary or exaggerated threats.

The STD mailer is a classic example of the use of a “straw man” argument. First, you set up a fake scenario.

They could just as easily used something like an asteroid striking the Charlestown Moraine Preserve or the construction of a state-owned water park on the Glista Family land. 

Then, skipping over the part that this straw man scenario isn’t going to happen, you proceed to show people the terrible consequences, and let fear take hold.

As you quake in your boots over this fake problem, along comes the CCA Party with its slate of candidates to claim that they are the ones who stopped the dreaded though imaginary STD threat from happening, and they are the only ones who can protect you from this bogeyman in the future.

Illegal campaign contribution?

What makes the official Town mailer about the STD different than earlier CCA Party exercises in paranoia is that this time, the taxpayers paid for it. That’s right, YOUR TAX DOLLARS funded a CCA Party campaign mailer sent out by the town

While the Town Council did authorize the idea of using the Town’s official newsletter, the Pipeline, to discuss the impacts of various proposals from Richmond and Hopkinton for rearranging structure and financing of the Chariho School District, the Council never actually signed off on the fear-mongering language in the STD Pipeline.

The authors of the STD mailer are not listed. 
Just because Ron Areglado says the sky is falling doesn't mean it is

However, they are CCA Party Councilor Dan Slattery and his Star Chamber, the Ad Hoc Chariho Withdrawal Committee. 

The other members are CCA Party appointee to the School Committee Ron Areglado, plus Linda Phillips and Chris Sheehan. 

The wording of the STD Pipeline are eerily similar to stuff we've all seen Ron Areglado write before. Indeed, the STD mailer contains this telltale fissilingual Aregladoism: “The Single Taxing Funding Formula is neither fair nor ethical.”

Even though Council member Paula Andersen suggested it at the July 17 Council meeting, there is no acknowledgement of this committee and their role in authoring the STD mailer.

Rhode Island law forbids the use of public funds for such a partisan purpose as this STD mailer. If the CCA Party had wanted to stir up yet another phony crisis, they should have done so with their own money, as I’m sure they will do later on in campaign season.

But if they intend to use the “Single Taxing District” issue in their campaign, they may face prosecution for illegal use of public funds for partisan purposes for mailing out this opening salvo.

STD – distraction from CCA Party tax increases?

There’s another way the STD Pipeline serves the CCA Party’s political interests. By raising the specter of some devastating tax trauma caused by a Chariho STD, perhaps voters will be distracted away from what the CCA Party has done to the taxes for residents of the Single Taxing District that we know as the Town of Charlestown.

And now in the new tax year that started July 1st, the rate is $9.40
That's the REAL STD scandal!
Under the CCA Party, Charlestown residents have suffered six consecutive property tax rate hikes, whether those hikes were needed or not. The CCA Party needs a smoke screen and maybe they think this is it.

Under the CCA Party, property tax relief – a Homestead Tax Credit - for permanent Charlestown residents was shot down by CCA Party Town Councilors who said that this would “discriminate” against non-resident property owners. Even though many of those same non-residents get a Homestead Tax exemption in the places where they claim residence.

Under CCA Party leadership, we continue to allow fake fire districts that have no capacity to actually fight fires – Shady Harbor and Quonnie Central – to offer their members tax shelters for amenities such as tennis courts, docking facilities, beaches, trash pick-up, snow-plowing, etc. And Charlestown collects little or no taxes on prime beach properties owned by these fake fire districts.

Under CCA Party leadership, we run up the town’s bills on deals that benefit only the few – i.e. CCA Party campaign donors, most of whom live out of state. The CCA Party would rather focus your attention on some imaginary threat from Chariho than on their own “pay-to-play” schemes that have jacked up everyone’s tax bills.

The CCA Party thinks Charlestown voters are so stupid that they can be distracted by this outrageous parlor trick. Well, similar tactics did work for them in the last three elections, so from the CCA Party point of view, maybe it's worth seeing if it will work again.

Step One: Don’t Panic!

Anytime you hear a CCA Party person speak or read a CCA Party e-mail or flyer, the first thing you should do is don’t panic.

A slightly more credible headline from the Town newsletter
Unless they are publicizing a Land Trust event, most CCA Party communications are designed to get people worried about some threat – whether it’s the Narragansetts, alternative energy, open space, state preservation of water resources, toilets at the beach, open space, Chariho, pets, mulch, lights, open space, Jim Mageau, children, music in the park, oyster farming, open space, red light cameras, elderly fraudsters, or whatever.

The CCA Party wants you to be afraid that somebody somewhere is out to get you. They are right. Somebody is trying to take something away from you. That somebody is the CCA. Mostly they’re protecting their own self-interests and those of other well-off retirees as well as those of non-resident property owners who supply most of the CCA Party funding.

The STD mailer was just so classic, starting with the “On several occasions this year, suggestions have been made….” When? Who? What?

Then jump right in as though you’re about to get the STD – and you still don’t know who did it to you – and lay out all the terrible ways it will hurt you.

Except it’s all fake. The General Assembly did not change the Chariho Act – and has already adjourned without any such legislation even coming out of committee. The General Assembly isn’t gonna change the Chariho Act unless all three of the Chariho towns, plus the elected Chariho School Committee and the School District management are in consensus.

Two key words: "if" and "dramatic"

But why let little details like that get in the way of a good crisis? So, as the STD authors write:
“If a single Taxing District were to be implemented, it would result in a dramatic increase in the Charlestown Budget and the Home Owners’ Property Tax.”
Let’s emphasize the word “If” and the word “dramatic” because those two words are the keys to understanding the STD mailer.

And somewhere there exists a universe where the Charlestown Citizens
Alliance tells the truth
Some scientists believe the cosmos consists of an infinite number of alternate universes and have math to back up that wild theory that is at least as convincing as the STD mailer. In this “multi-verse” cosmos, any possible thing that could happen has indeed happened in one of those infinite number of universes.

That may give some validity to the CCA Party’s effort to palm off the STD “what if?” as though it was real, because perhaps in one of those alternate universes, it is real. But I’d prefer to think that in many, maybe even most, of those “multi-universes,” dishonest crap like this would not get published with our tax dollars. But in our multiverse, we've got the CCA Party to pass off fiction as fact.