Building the Cleansing Fire in Tiverton

Life kept me away from Tiverton’s Financial Town Meeting, Wednesday night, although to be honest, I suspected that I would have been one of the few not falling into line in response to town official arguments such as the following:

… since Mr. Cotta and other officials said that legally the school budget cannot be cut below what it was for this year, that shifts much of the burden to the municipal side. …
In addition to the town’s obligation to pay the bond debt, Mr. Cotta said the town has employee contracts that must be honored. Other legal requirements were mentioned, such as public safety minimum staffing requirements in the police and fire departments, which will have to be dealt with.

As it turns out, however, the voice of the majority is such as would warm the hearts of most Anchor Rising readers:

“Let’s make a stand and tell the state we can’t take it anymore,” said Joe Sousa.
“How about cutting some services,” added Tom Morse. “I don’t care, I would suggest you start talking about cutting.” …
And Roger Bennis, who supported the cuts, said, he cares less about where the cuts are made than that it happen. “I don’t have any specific recommendations. I am looking to send a message.”


Shouting “no,” the voters signaled that they would not approve the final $2 million of the Budget Committee’s proposed $30 million tax levy. …
Joe Sousa asked fellow voters to “send a message upstate” that the town’s taxpayers reject unfunded state mandates, particularly those related to the schools, like the education of special-needs students.
“We can’t afford it any more,” Sousa said.
“The prices we’re paying to send these children to school are outrageous,” he said.

And from this week’s Sakonnet Times Web Words:

Who should be surprised with the pay and benefits they give out. Who else in this world gets to retire at 45, like cops and fire, or 55 like teachers and get almost full pay for life — and we pay and pay. The benefits we throw around are crazy.

And a letter from Tiverton resident Chris Hart:

In regards to Tiverton’s exhorbitant proposed tax hike, all I can say is NO,NO,NO!
Perhaps it is time that we take a good accounting of all our town services, with no exceptions. The police, fire, and water departments are all equiped with new vehicles, which I frequently see being used for personal uses (unless the Moose Cafe, Barcellos, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc. are having water trouble, high crime rates, or fires on a daily basis? )
With the ever increasing fuel prices, a crackdown on all this running around to pick up lunches, coffee, and the like is in order. Hopefully, with all the taxes we are already paying there is someone under contract to keep track of all these expenditures.

Returning to the first link, above, one finds the spreading of a necessary crack in Rhode Island’s corrupt veneer:

That prospect [that the money will reductions largely come from the municipal side of the budget] upset Bob Martin, a town maintenance worker and head of the town employees union.
“What we’re talking about is the gross waste in the schools,” he said.

It looks, however, as if sympathetic townies may not have the luxury of continuing to remain in the shadows, because the local government will probably try again:

When the town meeting does reconvene, Mr. Cotta said Thursday, the budget committee could recommend more than one budget, for example the original one recommended at last night’s meeting and another reflecting $2 million in cuts. Parliamentary requirements would have to be met, he said.
“We can present more than one budget as long as we have the same or more than the number in attendance when we do as were present when the original vote was taken,” he said. The quorum present at the time (approximately 9 p.m.) the vote was taken last night is thought to be close to what it was (437 voters) when the meeting was called to order at 7:20 p.m. The total vote on the motion was 406 voting, with 151 yeas and 255 nays. Mr. Cotta said people he knows of who voted on the prevailing side could move to reconsider, and thus bring the recommended measure back again that was rejected last night.

One can only hope that the peremptory and condescending tone of officials won’t go unnoticed:

“What we saw were people angry at the oil companies; people who were angry at oil heating costs,” [Town Council President Louise] Durfee said.
With the price of gasoline approaching $4 a gallon, they were saying, “this is not something that we can control. Let’s take it out on the powers that be,” Durfee said.
But voters did not think through the consequences, Durfee said. ..
[School Committee Chairwoman Denise] DeMedeiros said yesterday, “I do take offense” at the notion “that this was some kind of underhanded thing that we got that bond,” deMedeiros said.
“It’s disturbing to me that they’re telling us we didn’t do due diligence,” she said. …
“People just don’t like the tax,” she said. “Maybe some people weren’t paying attention.” …
… when extra money trickled in, it went to the general fund, helping to replenish monies used to offset taxes, [Budget Committee chairman Christopher Cotta] said.
But there has been no such cushion in the last two years, when the town exceeded the state limit on tax increases, Cotta said, and the general fund has dwindled to about $1,266,000.
That amount is barely enough to meet a requirement of the Town Charter that the town maintain reserves equivalent to 3 percent of its operating budget.
Cotta said, “you got the benefit of the $900,000 (from the general fund) in your taxes this year. Now you want to cry about it.”

Two observations:

  • Odd that our elected officials are responding to the night’s democratically expressed voice as a personal rebuke rather than a direct instruction from the people who are ultimately in charge.
  • Curious — as much as the lower economic waters may have brought the rapids’ rocks into sharper relief — that our elected officials remark upon the tide, but not the stones. Surely Cotta ought to include, in his “supercollision of everything wrong happening at the same time,” work-to-ruling teachers, a contentious departure of the town administrator, repeated blocking of development efforts, and higher property tax assessments, even as property values decline.

Good morning Rhode Island politicians. Grab a cup of coffee and join us around the fire or we’ll drag your sleeping bag into the river.

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David Robert, Tiverton Assessor
David Robert, Tiverton Assessor
16 years ago

Hi Justin. Just to clarify – property assessments are high based on the current market, but keep in mind that under State Law, the Town only conducts a property revaluation once every three years so at times the assessments will not reflect the current values (in either an up or down market). Think back to when the market was appreciating at a high rate, but for three years the assessments DID NOT increase. I’d be happy to sit down with you to go into further detail.

Justin Katz
16 years ago

Oh, I understand that, David, and I didn’t mean to imply that anything sneaky had been done. However, the timing of such shifts ought to be included in taxpayers current storm of pain. That the schedule finds property values dropping after a recent increase in valuations is surely something that those developing the budget ought to consider — rather than pointing their fingers at gas prices.

16 years ago

“What we saw were people angry at the oil companies; people who were angry at oil heating costs,”
Rhode Island’s tax ranking of fourth highest taxed is comprised of both state and local (especially property) tax assessments. The bulk of that revenue goes to labor contracts which it is now clear were badly negotiated – the services encompassed by those contracts do not well serve the end user and they are unjustifiably overpriced.
Most of us can hold at least two thoughts in our head. Just because taxpayers are being done down by oil producers and investors does not change that we are also being done down by our government representatives.
In short, “Look! Those evil oil companies are ripping you off!” is not a very effective way to divert our attention from the misguided actions taken by our elected officials.

George Elbow
George Elbow
16 years ago

Did someone (Sakonnet Times) complain that taxpayers are paying for people to retire in their 40s and 50s?
Didn’t they get the memo from NEA-RI Executive Director Bob Walsh telling them the Pension system is NOT the problem, that using his “Walshian Assumptions” the Pension Fund is almost self funded, if only the already over-taxed Taxpayers’ would just kick in their share!
At some point, the taxpayers are going to have to get off their asses and begin saying NFW (No-F’ing-Way) to the Unions, else they can count on an ever decreasing standard of living for themselves as they fund the outrageous pay & benefits that the Unions believe they are ENTITLED to.

Jay Edwards
Jay Edwards
16 years ago

Hello Justin,
Just a clarification concerning your 2 observations; you are quoting only 3 members of the elected town officials. I believe there are more of us than that, so please don’t throw all of us in the same basket. Whether we liked the result or not, we are doing exactly what the voters who were in attendance at the meeting directed us to do. We will be meeting tomorrow evening at Town Hall to discuss that.
Please explain the repeated blocking of development that you refer to. In my time on both the Town Council & the Zoning board, I have not seen any. If you are referring to the change in Zoning at Sousa Rd., then we were clearly directed by the will of the people who opposed the construction of a mall at that location for more than 2 years.
I trust that you will be in attendance this coming Wednesday so you can make your voice heard & not just belly-ache after the fact.

Justin Katz
16 years ago

Hey, Jay.
I most definitely intend to do my best to make it on Wednesday night, although making ends meet has been painfully time-consuming recently (especially since my wife and I deemed it advisable to extricate our children from the Tiverton public school system). I’d note, however, that I’m doing my bellyaching in advance of the fact, and as the unsolicited comments from you and Mr. Robert, above, indicate, my voice is already being heard.
As for my quotations, I cited what I was given to cite. If you find the selectivity of the input objectionable, your complaint is not with me. I’m thrilled, of course, that you made use of this forum to clarify.
And regarding my own necessary clarification, in a similar spirit to my response to David Robert, I did not mean to suggest that elected officials are wholly to blame for blocked development (just as I do not blame elected officials for work-to-ruling teachers). I maintain, however, that economic development practices in Tiverton ought to be included among the “supercolliding” factors.

15 years ago

One big problem I see in Tiverton is the property tax is way to high, and this is because the school teachers pay is to high and they keep asking for more money. As it is we cannot afford to live in this town with the current tax rate. But it seams they think they entitled to eat steak, and the rest of us dog food. They want everyone to think they are doing a service to our children when they ask for more money that they want to improve the schools. How? By bankrupting the home owner the childs parent out of their home? The teachers union commercial want us to believe its all about the kids, but its all about the money in the teachers pockets and there unions.

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