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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Why I am voting NO to Charlestown’s budget

Cheap tricks and broken promises
By Will Collette

One Basket Of Kittens | We Love Kitties
The CCA wants you to believe you will never see these kittens again if you
vote NO.
I have received my mail-in ballot from the Charlestown Board of Canvassers to vote on Charlestown’s proposed budget for town operations. All registered Charlestown voters should have received one (contact Town Hall if you didn’t).

I will be marking it NO and mailing it back before the June 1 deadline.

I voted NO to last year’s budget last year as did a large majority of Charlestown voters due to a tricky maneuver by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) that controls town government.

When they discovered a $3.1 million surplus last year, they decided to slide a bizarre item into the budget – a set-aside of the entire surplus to maybe, possibly build a new community center in Ninigret when we already have a well-functioning community center.

They also produced no plans, designs, budget or rationale for this community center, so voters acted sensibly and voted it down.

Rather than try a re-vote, the CCA decided to simply let the town continue operating based on the prior year’s budget.

After some debate, the CCA finally agreed that Charlestown voters would get to decide how to use that $3.1 million surplus through some form of polling and/or outreach leading to a vote. All options were supposed to be on the table – a tax refund perhaps, a homestead tax credit, or other projects and uses.

Charlestown was going to spend $75,000 hire a consultant to design a fair and reasonable method for gauging public opinion. To make a long and complicated story short, this never happened. In fact, this budget represents exactly the opposite of the CCA’s promise.

Now more than one year later, the CCA has rolled out a new budget where they simply decided to apply the surplus to pay for their own priorities. Much of it will pay down the bonds the town issued to buy various properties that Planning Commission (and CCA) major domo Ruth Platner desired to have under her domain.

From the CCA blog accompanying their description of the proposed
budget. Gotta love the rotten penny!
I was amused at the graphic the CCA used (➤) to describe how the surplus was to be whisked away – they used a pile of small change topped by a corroded penny which is a very good metaphor for this budget.

And to top it off, they use a cheap trick to win support – they increased the amount requested for repairs to the Charlestown Animal Shelter from $240,000 to $400,000. 

Based on that, the CCA makes the outrageous claim that this budget will determine the fate of the Shelter. (CLICK HERE and go to page 18, which is actually page 111).

Hell, they might as well show Ruth Platner handing a sack full of kittens to husband Cliff Vanover for a one-way canoe ride up the Pawcatuck unless we all vote YES on the budget.

A NO vote is not a vote to kill puppies and kittens, no matter what the CCA says.

In fact, if the CCA really cared about the shelter, they’d put a referendum before the voters to build a good shelter (like Animal Rescue RI’s shelter in Peacedale), rather than continue to patch up the old one. I’d vote for it. I’d campaign for it.

Instead, the CCA is holding the animal shelter hostage to get you to vote for a bad budget.

And the CCA has other arguments, like their mantra that Charlestown has a low tax rate - which has little or nothing to do with this budget.

I know we have a low tax rate. I also know we get virtually no municipal services for it, despite the touching paean to nothingness by the CCA’s lead pundit Mike Chambers. The one true thing Chambers says is “you get what you pay for.”

Every year since the CCA seized power with campaign contributions from rich absentee landowners, our tax bills have gone up. Most years, they have increased the “mil rate” (amount you pay per $1000 in property value); some years, by revaluation.

This year, many of us received greatly increased property valuations which will likely allow the CCA to pull a little sleight of hand – dropping the mil rate while charging more in taxes to cover $2 million in new spending. 

We don’t have current unemployment figures for Charlestown (our rate was 6.6% in March), but you can count on it being in double-digits by the time tax bills arrive so higher taxes will be hard to swallow for many families.

The proposed budget allows for $2 million in new spending but how reasonable is this?

We are in the middle of a pandemic. The summer use of our town properties is uncertain at best. We are not going to see the costs and revenues we see due to the normal high volume of summer visitors to our beaches, parks and events.

The budget contains page after page of itemized income and expenses related to a normal summer in Charlestown that just ain’t gonna happen.

In my view, it is irresponsible for Charlestown to deliberately wipe out its surplus when we don’t know how much we are going to lose from closed or sparsely used town facilities or how hard it will be for unemployed Charlestown workers and business owners to pay their taxes.

You don't deal with a disaster by spending all your savings on things that have nothing to do with disaster relief. Better to invest in toilet paper for COVID-19, The Second Wave.

Please, vote NO.