History repeats itself, and those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. The truth of those two hackneyed clichés was never more in evidence than at Monday night’s Charlestown Town Council meeting. Last year, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) was decisively rebuffed by Charlestown voters when the CCA-dominated Town Council attempted to deplete a roughly $3 million surplus in the town coffers with a proposal to build an unneeded community center. They then promised to leave the surplus intact until the taxpayers of Charlestown could determine how they wished it to be used. They even allocated $75,000 for a survey and had selected a company to conduct the survey until the pandemic put that effort on temporary hold.
Not content with failing to use up the $3 million in this fashion, and in blatant disregard of their promise to the citizens of Charlestown, they returned this year with a different strategy to accomplish the same goal. This year they divided the $3 million into several smaller pieces and allocated those pieces to pay for things that were either not necessary or whose payments could easily be delayed into a future budget when the economy had recovered. Once they depleted the $3 million, they could then argue that the remaining surplus must remain to meet auditor’s requirements for a minimum town surplus, especially in the face of what will likely be still a slow and incomplete economic recovery. Thus the wishes of the town residents, if they were even solicited at that point, would be moot. The lone voice on the council trying make these points and come up with a more acceptable compromise, Deb Carney, was, as usual, ignored and voted down. Many of her proposals did not even receive a second to open a discussion.
Why is the Town Council so opposed to our citizens determining how they want their tax dollars, obtained from years of over-taxation, spent? The obvious answer is that the CCA and their supporters are afraid of what the citizens will direct the town to do with the surplus. For instance, there seems to be strong town support for improving and modifying Charlestown’s gem of an asset, Ninigret Park, to support more events for the entertainment and financial benefit of the entire town. That use of the funds would impact nearby residents with increased noise and lights a few days a year. I do wonder where many CCA supporters live! The bottom line is that we Charlestown voters will once again have to vote down this damaging budget. I do not take any pleasure or satisfaction in recommending this. But the council’s total disregard for the wishes of the town’s citizens makes no other course possible. Hopefully, in November, a more responsive and responsible council (as well as members of other Town committees) will be elected.
Kenneth Robbins, Charlestown
This article appeared as a Letter to the Editor in The Westerly Sun on May 13, 2020.