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Friday, June 2, 2023

Still time to vote on Charlestown’s budget

June 5 deadline

By Will Collette

You still have time to vote for Charlestown’s $16 million municipal budget. As a formality, the budget ballot – mailed to every voter in town – also lists the $14 million Chariho budget which has already been approved in a separate vote of voters in the three Chariho towns.

You can send in that ballot by mail – though do it now to make sure it arrives on time – or put it in the drop box at Town Hall, or you can vote in person next MONDAY. I sent in my “yes” vote over a week ago.

This is the first budget not written by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) since 2010 when they took over Charlestown. As anyone who has been paying attention knows, the CCA was routed at the polls last November by Charlestown Residents United (CRU) who hold the Council with a 4-1 majority coalition.

Budget issues were a major factor in that election.

This year’s budget is strangely without drama but not without a high element of weirdness. The weird part is the extent to which sky-rocketing tax assessments (50% on average) jacked up the tax base. The practical effect is to lower Charlestown’s tax rate to an unprecedented level. The current estimate is a rate of $5.74. Calculate your estimated taxes HERE.

For all the years the CCA ruled Charlestown, they touted Charlestown’s low tax rate as their crowning achievement, never mentioning that the rate is solely dependent on the tax base because your taxes equal the rate times your tax assessment.

This new tax rate is the lowest in historical data listed on Tax Assessor’s Ken Swain’s chart found HERE. I wonder how the CCA will spin that. 

I predict that CCA leader Ruth Platner will take the credit for her crafty use of taxpayer money to buy land the town didn’t need at criminally inflated prices.

See the whole budget HERE.

Finance shake-up

Last December, when the RI Public Expenditure Council released its annual report on municipal finance, Charlestown came off very badly, with administration costs the highest in the state.

When our last auditors revealed a “$3 million oopsie,” a misplacement of money that led to a string of budgeting errors, no one in the CCA administration wanted to take responsibility, though they were very willing to spin, distract, and lie as best they could. Other uncovered errors were given the same treatment.

The auditors resigned a step ahead of being fired and the new auditors reviewed the years of errors citing the town for three significant categories of financial mismanagement. All those CCA claims of being premier money managers went down the toilet and they paid for it at the polls.

The CCA lost its majority and their golden boy Mark Stankiewicz had already lined up a new town administrator job, unbeknownst to the CCA, in Berkley MA. Stankiewicz’s prodigy Town Treasurer Irina Gorman has since resigned.

Stankiewicz only lasted six weeks in Berkley before he either jumped off or was pushed. 

A confidential source told me he’s now Finance Director in Pawtucket, even though he’s already told co-workers that he’s “no finance guy,” as his Charlestown record confirms. The source also tells me Irina Gorman will be following him.

Obviously, we need new, better financial management.

This year’s budget creates a new position of Charlestown Finance Director. Hopefully, we’ll find someone actually qualified and motivated to do the job. The budget allocates $187,000 to get that going.

Ditto on finding a new Town Administrator, although I’d be fine if interim TA, former CPD Chief Jeffrey Allen, stayed on. And double ditto on finding a new town Treasurer.

It’s also well past time for Budget Commission chair Dick Sartor to resign. He shares blame for much of the financial mismanagement. His leadership after the slip-ups became public was more about image management than about problem solving. Dick – it’s not a lifetime position.