I’ve Had It… With What? or
I’ve Always Been a Troublemaker, so Why Stop Now? or
Learning the Laffey Lesson
After a bit of consideration, I’m not so sure I’ve the resources to up and leave Rhode Island. There’s an ire that rises when one feels trapped, but at the same time, brawling has its attractions, and a couple of community items have recently led me to believe that there’s another path to take than that which leads across the border.
Item 1 is a certified letter that I received regarding construction and renovations to the school next to my house. It seems the Connecticut architecture firm that is handling the project needs a special use permit and a variance, the former given only the esoteric explanation of zoning ordinance numbers and the latter to allow “less than required parking spaces.” Inasmuch as my street becomes a parking lot for the school already (not to mention a smoking section for the tobacco-free property), I’m curious, to say the least, what the plan is. Per the law (I assume), the petition for these waivers is available for public examination:
Said petition is now on file in the Building/Zoning Department at the Tiverton Town Hall and may be examined during regular office hours, 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. then 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Who gets a full hour for lunch anymore, especially one so rigid that the office is officially closed during that siesta? Second, how are interested parties supposed to view the petition when it is available only during hours when most people are working? The letter mentions that “interpreter services [are available] for the hearing impaired,” and that the “location is handi-cap accessible,” but it seems to me that the most disadvantaged class, when it comes to dealing with the town hall, is that of the occupationally employed.
Item 2 is a report in the Sakonnet Times:
After getting off to slow start, voters at Tiverton’s financial town meeting Wednesday night eventually flew through and approved a $39.86 million town budget for next year that will raise property taxes by 62 cents per thousand dollars of value, from $9.62 to $10.24. The budget voters approved was unchanged from that recommended by the budget committee.
It took almost as long to assemble a quorum as it did to approve the budget. At 7 p.m., the announced “official” start time, nothing happened. Town officials noted that another area newspaper had published a start time of 7:30. The weather was ominous, with storm warnings and threats of a tornado watch being broadcast. “The storm isn’t helping,” said Town Council President Louise Durfee. …
Next year’s $39.86 million budget is 7.5 percent higher than last year’s. After accounting for all other revenue from the state and non-tax miscellaneous sources, the amount needed to be raised by local property taxation is $26.9 million. Some of that total will be raised by taxes on tangible personal property, but the bulk will derive from real estate taxes at the newly established $10.24 per thousand rate. …
Town meeting attendees voted the budget item by item, in a series of over 44 separate votes, for schools, debt service, fire, police, town council, public works, library, Board of Canvassers, town sergeant, Town Hall, and many other. The total approved for schools was $24.59 million, and for the town or municipal side of the town budget $15.27 million.
They voted item by item and everything passed. True, some objections were made, including an attempt at salary protection by a union council president and a reasonable suggestion to shut street lights off at times and reduce the $125,000 expense for them. (Apparently, doing so would actually cost more money “because of contractual obligations with the electrical supplier,” although I note that the one on the corner of my property works only sporadically, anyway.) Of course, even if our streets remained totally dark, we’d have reduced the budget by only 0.3%. In other words, in response to an ever-increasing budget, the only notable suggestion to save money would have, if possible, probably not even saved taxpayers a tenth of a percent of their bill.
Given the movement of social and, well, most issues upward to the state and federal levels, like the vast majority of people, my druthers would be for municipal government to operate more or less invisibly — just keeping things running — but clearly, my civic activity has to become more extensive than writing for Anchor Rising, if only to play the part of rabble rouser and get my fellow townsfolk to begin thinking of local budgets and projects as debatable things. As my first adventure in town government, I’ll be attending the public hearing on the school construction this Wednesday, and — assuming it’s there — my second order of business will be to thank my civil servants for keeping the building open late enough for a working stiff like me to actually find out what my taxes will be funding on the other side of my fence.
In all of these endeavors, I’ll be applying what I took to be the “Laffey Lesson” of the last election: Partly by virtue of our being correct in our policy prescriptions, even those of us who are of an ideological minority in Rhode Island can have a direct effect at some level of government and, in threatening the stability of those who stand above us, at higher levels, as well. Officials to the right of this state’s to-the-left center cannot afford to face split votes, and an openness, among conservatives, to creative destruction may help us to spread our ideas, en route to increasing our impact, even if we have to spell “destruction” with a capital D in our districts.