Pursuing Business Friendliness
The Tiverton Town Council meeting has already been running very long, and there’s still a full agenda page of meaty topics. On the floor, right now, is a discussion of what the Town Council can do to make the town more “business friendly.” I touched on this topic not long ago.
The first to speak, tonight, was Tax Assessor David Robert, who addressed the topic from the perspective of increasing tax revenue by bringing in businesses. Solicitor Andrew Teitz subsequently made the point that business activity doesn’t necessarily indicate a “net gain,” once the costs of the business to the town (fire, police, streets, etc.) are considered. I’d correct that: The “net gain” must include other advantages to the town, such as increasing opportunity for residents and their children, improving their quality of life, defining the town’s character, creating employment for locals, and making it easier for locals to start businesses.
Resident Joe Souza took the microphone to speak from his experience on the Zoning Board, noting that zoning is so restrictive that businesses want to come and to begin within town. Specifically, Souza described his aunt’s former business cutting hair in her basement, which allowed her to stay home and bring in some money. According to Souza, such a use of her property would no longer be allowed.
Appropriately, the next item on the agenda is a presentation by Councilor David Nelson, proposing a cap of 2.5% on the town’s tax levy. He noted the town’s rapid increase in taxes and the state’s poor standing economically and for business and taxpayer attraction. Councilor Cecil Leonard noted that the budget process for next year is already well underway, with work done without regard to a new tax cap. Nelson noted that there’s plenty of time to accommodate changes. I’d note that, whatever the budget activity, the financial town meeting can undo all planning anyway.
We just moved through a long presentation and discussion of a zoning/development plan being developed by Town Planner Chris Spencer for Tiverton’s Four Corners Village area. From my perspective, living on the other side of town, it seems to me that the urge to tie up and continually delay development plans with objections about environment and such is indicative of the very problem that is making economic development very difficult in the modern era. Nobody wants changes in their own neighborhoods, but everybody’s got a neighborhood to protect, which pushes anything potentially undesirable (typically by increasing the liberty of property owners) to the less politically active, less procedurally aware, and less financially backed neighborhoods.
Those neighborhoods simply cannot offer all of the opportunities that the town should allow or even pursue.
Among a flurry of policy proposals, Councilor Rob Coulter suggested that the council request General Assembly legislation delaying the state mandate for a town-wide property revaluation. The tax assessor is against the move, and other council members didn’t seem to have much stomach for it. I say it’s worth sending every possible message to the legislature that mandates are a problem and putting the topic in the public repeatedly.
City and Town revaluation was mandated in RI back in the late 1960s to early 1980s (can’t remember exact year) to equalize the influx and distribution of federal funds distributing those funds based on an equalized tax-base playing field (revaluation had to be performed every 5-10 years as I remember because some properties were being taxed on original sales price up to 80 years old and not current market price) to the 39 cities and towns based on the local tax base. If Tiverton lobbies for an exemption from town-wide property revaluation the State of RI has two options; give Tiverton funding what it got based on last revaluation (no increase or decrease funding) or no funding at all based on failure to follow state law. Either way it will be a loss to the Town of Tiverton and that is why your tax assessor is so against going to the General Assembly with a request for exemption besides all other 38 cities and towns that has completed revaluation in accordance with the state law will raise the roof in protest. Your choice Justin!