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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

CCA gets its budget – now I hope they WON’T use it

Instead of pre-paying bills, Charlestown’s focus should be on Charlestown’s economy and its jobless citizens
By Will Collette

After two weeks of mail-in voting, Town Clerk Amy Weinreich announced there were 1202 “yes” votes for the Charlestown budget backed by the controlling Charlestown Citizens Alliance versus 730 “no” votes.

Mail Ballot
Mail Ballot (Manual Count)
Charlestown Elementary School


Thus the June 1 Charlestown Budget Referendum gave approval of the CCA Party’s budget.

I really hope the CCA party doesn’t use it – or at least not right away. We just reported that Charlestown’s unemployment rate has hit 19.1%. That’s the highest it’s ever been in the 30 years recorded in the RI Department of Labor and Training database. When the May numbers come it, this percentage could go even higher.

Charlestown’s unemployment rate is higher than the statewide average of 17.8%.

The just-approved CCA Budget was written with assumptions based on the past, before the country was stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic and its massive impact on the economy at every level.

Our record high unemployment shows that Charlestown has not escaped its effects. Our newly approved budget assumes we will enjoy the same income we have had in the past from our typical summer activities.

Normally, our population triples in the summer and we get tens of thousands of day trippers and festival goers. They buy tickets and spend lots of money.

I think we can all agree that none of this is going to happen. No festivals. Greatly reduced day trippers. Fewer summer people. Sharply reduced customers at Charlestown restaurants that manage to re-open.

And with so many Charlestown residents unemployed, that can’t be good for tax collections.
There is no way to accurately predict how hard a hit Charlestown’s finances are going to take, except we can be pretty sure it will be a big one.

I believe Charlestown’s town government needs to have a laser focus on using town resources to boost our local economy and help our numerous unemployed.

Yes, it’s true that Charlestown is not to blame for the pandemic and resulting depression-like economic disaster nor does it have the power to fix those problems. That will take national leadership and international cooperation, which we do not have.

But that does not mean Charlestown is powerless.

First, I think the CCA Party needs to indefinitely postpone its plan to pre-pay town bills, including paying off debt run up by Planning Commissar Ruth Platner’s open space buying spree.

We need do what we can to put people to work. In the budget, voters approved $400,000 in improvements at the Charlestown Animal Shelter. That’s great, but we can do better. Why not ask voters to approve construction of a new Shelter – state of the art, like Animal Rescue RI’s great facility in Peacedale – that could employ Charlestown construction workers?

Public works projects are a time-tested, effective way to put people to work. Dust off projects that have been in the works and let’s get people back to work.

Charlestown can also use its taxation and regulatory powers in a positive way by giving small businesses and homeowners incentives that lead to job creation and stem job loss in town.

Charlestown should use its regulatory, permitting and purchase power to help local businesses and to prevent Charlestown’s commerce from being snapped up by unsavory characters.

Charlestown needs a link to public transportation to help people get to where the jobs are.

Maybe we need to do another referendum to get approval for expenditures aimed at boosting the town economy. We can do that and, if the plans make sense, I’m sure town voters would approve them.

I’ve made specific suggestions in the past – largely unheeded or ridiculed by the CCA Party – in the past for ways our small town of Charlestown can help its citizens cope with hard times. To read those ideas, click HERE and click HERE.

In these hard times we face, can we afford to dismiss any reasonable idea, regardless of its source? All of us, no matter what your political views, ought to think about ways we can help Charlestown weather this storm.