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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Charlestown budget hearing Monday night

Tax rate to rise for 8th consecutive year
By Will Collette

Screen shot from the Charlestown Tax Assessor webpage
If you only looked at the official published agenda, you would think that Monday night’s Budget Public Hearing wasn’t about the budget, but rather about what a new Charlestown civic group, the Friends of the General Stanton Inn, hope to get the town to do about one of its most treasured historical icons.

The citizens’ petition to put a $1.75 million ballot question to save the inn before the voters on June 6 at the town Financial Referendum has already been approved. It cannot be stopped by the Town Council, consisting entirely of Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) picks. 

The main thing we will learn at the Budget Hearing is the extent of the CCA Party opposition to this popular and commendable enterprise.

I have a theory that the CCA Party would like to see all eyes focused on the General Stanton Inn initiative and most of the time at the hearing devoted to discussing it.

That way, voters might be distracted from noticing that the proposed CCA Council budget contains the eighth consecutive tax rate hike, bringing the new property tax rate to $10.22, give or take a penny.

Since the CCA Party took control of Charlestown Town Government in 2008, they have raised Charlestown’s property tax rate by more than 42% - from $7.16 to a proposed $10.22. All the while, they shout from the rooftops that Charlestown has one of the lowest tax rates in the state – which is only true if you ignore how we have virtually none of the municipal services - water, sewage, fire protection, rescue service, trash disposal, etc. - that are built into the tax rates of most other municipalities. We still pay for all those services, but separately, so it doesn't show up in our general property tax rate.

Plus, the CCA Party continues to claim that its core financial principles are saving taxpayers money.

Since 2008, they have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to greatly expand the amount of land taken off the tax rolls as open space. This, according to CCA Party co-founder and current Zoning Board member Cliff Vanover, was definitely going to increase property values and thus reduce taxes. It hasn’t.

Since 2008, they have managed to thwart new family housing on Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s theory that new housing for working families automatically means more kids in Chariho schools and higher costs to tax payers. As a result, Charlestown’s population has shrunk and aged, our enrollment in Chariho has dropped and Charlestown’s share of the costs of Chariho has declined. Despite all that, our taxes have gone up for eight years straight.

Since they’ve also asserted dominance over the Budget Commission, CCA budgets include the peculiar feature of taking town surpluses to pay for capital projects such as road works instead of using those surpluses for tax relief. Each year, we are promised this will “save taxes.” But for eight years in a row, our tax rate has gone up.

Based on comments printed in the CCA’s official website, it looks like CCA Party followers are going to challenge the General Stanton Inn initiative on financial grounds, despite assurances from none other than Charlestown Budget Commission chair Richard Sartor that the costs to taxpayers will be minimal compared to the tremendous benefit to the town.

In advance, I would say to each of those potential CCA Party objectors, “When will you start challenging the failed budget practices of your own Town Council? Why aren’t you raising a stink about 42.7% in tax rate hikes since the CCA took over?”

CCA supporters in many ways resemble the hardcore supporters of Donald Trump. They hold every CCA Party pronouncement as gospel. They call any information that casts doubt on the CCA Party “lies.” They believe anyone who opposes the CCA is motivated by hate.

We’ll see how much of that plays out at Monday’s hearing.

Here is the official agenda which includes links to the budget and the complete text of the Petition to save the General Stanton Inn:

Charlestown Town Council
Budget Public Hearing
5/2/2016 7:00 PM
Council Chambers

Town Hall   4540 South County Trail   Charlestown, RI 02813

Call to Order by Leon D. Mainelli, Town Moderator
Pledge of Allegiance
Explanation of Rules of Procedures given by Mr. Mainelli
Rules of Conduct / limiting debate
Public Hearing
PETITION #1 “Shall the Town Treasurer and the President of the Town Council be Authorized, Pursuant to RIGL §45-12-2, to Issue and Refund from Time to Time, Bonds, Notes or Other Evidences of Indebtedness in an Amount Not to Exceed $1,750,000.00 (One Million Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars) to Finance the Acquisition, Maintenance and Capital Projects of Two Properties, the General Stanton Inn 4115 Old Post Rd, 6.85 Acres, AP 13 Lot 1, Purchase Price $1,325,000. (One Million Three Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Dollars),: and 2.3 Acre Lot on Old Post Road, AP 13 Lot 5, Purchase Price $163,000. (One Hundred Sixty Three Thousand Dollars),: and Maintenance/Capital Fund of $262,000. (Two Hundred Sixty Two Thousand Dollars), or Any Interest Therein Alone or in Conjunction with Federal Agencies, State Agencies, Land Trusts, or Preservation Organizations or Nonprofit Organizations, for the Acquisition of Said Listed Properties, the Terms, Details and Condition of Such Bonds, Notes or Other Evidence of Indebtedness, to be Set by Resolution of the Town Council or by the Town Treasurer and the President of the Town Council in the Absence of Such Resolution?” Explanation: Acquire the General Stanton Inn and One Adjacent Property for Preservation and Enhancement of Our Community Village Center. it is Envisioned that a Non-Profit Citizen’s Organization Would be Created to Manage, Develop and Promote Community Values, Uses and Activities in the Village. Envisioned Activities Include Historic Preservation, Education, Commerce that Serves Our Community, Entrepreneurial Incubator Business Space, Seasonal Events and Activities to Guide and Promote the Continued Development of Charlestown’s Central Village, While Preserving Its Character.

Tentative 2016-2017 Municipal Budget: $13,491,329