Stamping an Increase
So this Wednesday, at the annual Tiverton Financial Town Meeting (potentially among the last), voters will be asked to approve an 11% property tax increase:
Town electors who attend next Wednesday night’s Financial Town Meeting will be asked to vote on a total recommended budget of $41.7 million.
To raise that amount, a tax levy is projected that will require an increase in the tax rate by 11 percent over this year’s rate — up to $11.39 from $10.26 per $1,000 of value.
“Our committee is not happy about putting forward an 11 percent increase, but to retain current levels of public safety and services, this is what’s required,” said Chris Cotta, chairman of the town budget committee. “There’s no fat in this budget that we’re aware of.”
Although the spending plan proposed by the budget committee falls within the state’s 5 percent tax cap, debt costs, which are not counted toward that calculation, contribute to tax hike pressure for Tiverton property taxpayers. The tax cap legislation limits the actual dollar amount that can be raised in successive years by declining quarter percentage points. Last year the cap was 5.25 percent, this year it is 5, and next year it will be 4.75 percent.
However, the legislation allows for state waivers from the cap requirement when the payment of bonded indebtedness is involved. Tiverton committed to paying off $30.7 million in school bonds in 2004, before the tax cap legislation was passed.
The true abomination is how little of the budget voters are actually empowered to change. The debt service is beyond the tax cap; the school budget comes with the threat of a Caruolo Act lawsuit if the town returns a “no way”; many services and employment deals are contracted; unfunded mandates filter down from higher levels of government. In characteristic Rhode Island fashion, democracy is constructed to give the semblance of voice, but the reality of dictation.
And worse, for me, the meeting falls during one of the busiest, most stressful weeks that I can recall, between work and family obligations. Civic participation can’t always have been like this.