Good Night, Sweet Tiverton
I hadn’t planned to attend the Tiverton Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday night, so when my eyelids became heavy around 9:30, and with the meeting looking as if it had settled into a series of unanimous votes on heavily debated dollar amounts, it was easy to talk myself into heading home. I wish I’d stayed:
All but one voting member of Tiverton’s Budget Committee supported a proposal to move the town’s financial town meeting to a later date, when more concrete state aid figures are available.
The vote came at the end of a long budget meeting Wednesday night, and just days before the Town Council is scheduled to meet and discuss whether to ask the General Assembly for the ability to postpone the meeting, which the town charter states is to take place the second Saturday of May. …
Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Caron did not vote on the motion, and Vice Chairman Robert Coulter voted against it. The chairman usually votes only as a tiebreaker. …
Sanford Mantell, a newly elected member of the Budget Committee, said he didn’t have a problem with a request by Town Council President Donald Bollin for “unified” support from the Budget Committee to move the financial town meeting to a later date.
Some committee members made it clear that they would not want the meeting to open on May 9 only to be recessed to a later date. That would disenfranchise voters and cost the town additional money, they said.
Caron said the committee will continue to work on its budget recommendations and have a docket ready for May 9 if the meeting does end up convening on that date.
I very much hope I’m wrong about this, but it appears to me that the powers of Tiverton are in the midst of another scheme. Facing unexpected push-back from the budget committee, the town council and school committee squeezed their budgets as hard as they could even pretend to be doing. (Recall statements from the town side that the draft budget that they approved is “too low,” even presenting a danger to residents.) Between that, some likely fudging of probable contract terms, and a very deep dip into reserve funds, the town brought the expected tax increase below the state cap.
That will depressurize some of the incentive for citizen activism, and a postponement of the financial town meeting will push actual decisions into the lazy summer, perhaps after municipal and school contracts are a done deal. No doubt, town officials are still hoping for the magic Obama money to save the day, but I suspect they’re already planning methods of peeling the facades from the budgets and coming on strong with the message that “we must raise taxes” because we’re awash in “obligations.”
Business as usual may be in the middle of a hiccup, but it remains the paradigm, and when our eyes clear, we’ll see whether the town’s gamble that the world will go back to the way it was has paid off. Me, I think Tiverton’s future gets a little bit darker every week.
As I said, I hope I’m wrong.