More Shenanigans in Tiverton

Somebody in town really wants a waiver of the state-imposed property tax cap, which currently limits the total property tax levy to a 4.5% increase. As I reported in a liveblog from last Monday’s Town Council meeting, the council voted to send an extra-statutory “letter of inquiry” (meaning that there’s no such thing in the law) to find out how much the town could exceed the cap, if it so chose.
I’ve tried to find out, from Jill Barrette, Acting Chief of the Division of Property Valuation and Municipal Finance, in Providence, how her office could possibly give a hypothetical number with an implied promise without the town’s following the process of requesting a waiver. That would mean a 4/5 vote of the “governing body” claiming that the town’s budget exceeds its allowed increase, as well as a majority vote of the financial town meeting.
The problem is that the Tiverton Budget Committee, which ultimately determines the budget on which residents will vote on May 8, managed to get it below the cap, negating the need for a waiver. To skirt this difficulty, Town Administrator Jim Goncalo has apparently reworked official documents to show a higher proposed budget, with a 9.04% increase in taxes.
Budget season, this year, has certainly been a lesson in politics, and I can’t help but extrapolate local behavior to government more broadly. The law is what you can get away with, it seems, and without a bottom-up re-engagement of the electorate, it’s hard to see how this tangled up mess can do otherwise than sink.
In the meantime, if anybody’s got a line to the State Division of Municipal Finance, the Department of Revenue, or the governor’s office, I’d love to hear some official opinions on issuing non-waiver promises of waivers based on documents that are arguably falsified. I expressed my concern, back when the tax cap was new, that it would, first, present a goal for which budgeters would shoot, every year, even if they were able to come in significantly lower and, second, regularly be waived with little difficulty. If the process of acquiring a waiver is indeed as some folks in Tiverton would like it to be, the law is little more than smoke and mirrors to give the impression of concern about taxpayers.

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