In recent Westerly Sun editions, letters were published from Ruth Platner and Michael Chambers, members of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA), asking voters to vote yes for the Charlestown budget. Both referenced letters I had written urging Charlestown citizens to vote down the proposed 2020-2021 budget. I would like to clarify misstatements made about my letters and to correct ideas made about the current budget proposal.
Ms. Platner says my “objections to the budget are purely political and not based in finance at all” (emphasis added). The CCA has made any discussion of the budget a political issue. Charlestown has a surplus beyond what the auditors recommend for the town. CCA seems determined to reduce these funds. Last year they proposed an unnecessary community center and were voted down overwhelmingly. They agreed to a survey of all Charlestown citizens to determine how to use the surplus. In the current budget CCA is again trying to reduce the surplus before the citizens even have the opportunity to be heard. This being said, my letter is not “purely” political and does contain financial concerns.
The proposed budget lowers the surplus below the maximum the auditors recommend. The CCA can now argue that, since we are in the auditors’ range, and with future uncertainty in the economy, Charlestown should not spend any more funds for those things the citizens might want. Her letter does not address this point. Is she fearful of the use Charlestown citizens might want for the funds?
Ms. Platner’s letter does not address the issue that none of the proposed uses allocated to the excess surplus are either necessary now, or requested by the departments involved, or requested by other entities like the state for the pension fund. She suggests that paying down future liabilities is an appropriate use of the excess surplus. This is an interesting suggestion in these uncertain economic times. She also notes that the use of the excess surplus will result in a lower tax rate. This is true; but because of property reevaluation, many will see their tax bill increase in any case. For this reason, many of us did support the use of some of the surplus to help our neighbors. This use will still leave much of the excess surplus intact.
Mr. Chambers wonders why I would suggest that the low tax rate in Charlestown does not, necessarily, reflect that the current Council has been a responsible steward of the Town’s finances. I noted that our tax rate is low, in part, because it does not include services other towns provide but that we pay for separately, like fire protection, trash pickup, and water and sewer services. I do not mean we should have those services, only that we don’t and that keeps our tax rate low. Also, over the last five years, taxes increased annually despite the Town surplus increasing by about $1 million a year. This does NOT suggest that the Council was a competent steward of our finances. It actually suggests a pattern of continuing overtaxation.
I finally want to address the totally shameless and pathetic use by CCA of our sympathy for animals to advance CCA’s political agenda. They are now arguing that defeating the budget would prevent the completion of the Animal Shelter in Charlestown. Where this absurd position came from, other than desperation, is unknown. No one is arguing that the funds to complete the shelter should be cut. In fact, the only way they could be cut is if the CCA dominated Town Council votes to cut them and the voters then approve the revised budget. The current budget vote has nothing to do with this red herring.
The bottom line is that this budget was formulated by CCA to eliminate the discretionary funds available for our citizens, much as they tried last year with the proposed community center. We must once again call a halt to this farce and vote NO on the budget. After November, we have high hopes that more responsive and reasonable leaders will guide our town.
Dr. Kenneth Robbins, Charlestown