Defining the Terms of Economic Development
Everybody supports economic development, even in a proudly ruralish town like Tiverton, but as I suggest in my Patch.com column, the details are decisive:
At least in the recent past, it has seemed that Tiverton’s policy for economic development has been that it should occur only in places in which businesses struggle to succeed – mostly Stafford and Crandall Road along the eastern border and Main Road in North Tiverton. It’s only a mild exaggeration to suggest that Town Council members of the past have been loath to fell a single tree for the benefit of the private sector. Meanwhile, residents in such neighborhoods as Four Corners have arisen in opposition to any attempts to nudge planning and zoning codes a little bit closer to the sweet spot between quaint and flourishing. …
In this respect, the grocery store symbolizes the error in our very concept of economic development. Councilor Ed Roderick came closest to correcting the error when he noted that the town must “offer something that [businesses] can’t get somewhere else.” Truth be told, there are really only two things unique to Tiverton: Tivertonians and the town itself. The geography is what it is, and the inclination to protect its rural, coastal New England character is well placed, which leaves only the character of the people. …
In short, the objective of luring attractive residents to a town comes down to making it a great place to live, which brings us right back to all of those issues in contentious disagreement. Clearly, for one, our schools must be top-notch. A district’s threat that a large tax increase is necessary to avoid shuttering a brand new elementary school indicates that the town is already having difficulty funding schools as they are, and Tiverton is currently producing high school classes that are only 31% proficient in math and 21% proficient in science, as measured on statewide NECAP tests. Knowledge-working parents are unlikely to be impressed by such results.
By the way, while I’m posting Tiverton content:
Last night, the Town Council came out of executive session around 11:00 p.m. and voted unanimously to support Town Treasurer Phil DiMattia as he recoups $367,000 from the school department. Apparently, with state/federal aid coming in lower than budgeted at last May’s financial town meeting, the schools did exactly as Tiverton Citizens for Change and I explained that they would: They’ve taken the position that the town is now responsible for every penny that it budgeted, regardless of the fact that it broke out that budget into “state/federal aid” and “from local sources.”
Readers may recall that the controversy centered around a potential 22% tax increase. As I explained here and here, that’s the outward boundary, should the schools lose all state and federal aid. That’s not likely, but unless the municipal government cuts its own budget by an equal amount — and municipal is much more strapped than the school department — every $300,000 will require a 1% tax increase.