Tiverton 1st Set Out to Teach Taxpayers a Lesson

If the Town Council follows through with the Budget Committee’s threat to end trash pickup in Tiverton (or charge extra for it), it will be because elected officials and their supporters want to teach taxpayers not to attempt to control their taxes.  But the real lesson will be that we must be more careful about whom we elect to office.

At the May 21 financial town referendum (FTR), 1,224 voters out of 2,210 approved Budget #2, for a 0.9% tax increase, resulting in zero increase in the property tax rate.  That made supporters of a much-bigger tax increase angry; here are some examples of things that they wrote on the Facebook page of the local activist group Tiverton 1st:

  • May 21. Budget Committee member Deborah Scanlon Janick: “Make sure you all personally thank Justin Katz when you lose the services you are used to.” (Somebody even printed up business cards at this time, telling people to call my cell phone and complain.)
  • May 22. Former Town Council Vice President Joanne Arruda: “First thing… snow plowing… I know this is awful, but those people who put in this budget out there and had their minions vote for it will have to be affected.”
  • May 22. Tiverton 1st organizer Mike Silvia: “… in this town, the uninformed and greedy followers who outnumber the community-minded aren’t smart enough to know they’re being played.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st activist, school department employee, and school committee candidate Linda Larsen: “Unfortunately, [voters] won’t care until they feel pain. … It won’t make a difference unless it becomes personal.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st organizer Kelly Anne Levesque: “I would like to see trash pickup removed which will require you to schlep your maroon bags to the dump or hire a private company.”
  • June 7: Deborah Scanlon Janick: “The residents of Tiverton will pay the price for voting for Budget 2 or for not voting at all.”

On May 30, I published a document detailing $1.7 million in potential budget adjustments, from which the committee would have to choose just $782,895, without affecting trash pickup or road paving.  On June 3, Town Administrator Matthew Wojcik contributed a list of “budget concepts and considerations” totaling $918,000 — $437,535 after removing anything affecting trash pickup or duplicating my suggestions.  Notably, Mr. Wojcik’s analysis found no way that changing trash pickup could save more than $200,000–300,000.

At their June 9 meeting, although trash was on lists distributed by members Cecil Leonard and Louise Durfee, the committee was 84% of the way to a solution without touching trash pickup.  In fact, the committee came up with an additional $116,580 that neither my list nor the administrator’s had included, bringing the total non-trash, non-paving options to $2.3 million.

Then, between that meeting and the next, Budget Committee Member Louise Durfee (who was not elected, but appointed by the Town Council) met with Town Treasurer Denise Saurette to research a plan to attack trash pickup.  (Note that Saurette’s 2.5% raise might otherwise have been reconsidered by the Budget Committee at its next meeting.)

On June 14, rather than find less than $150,000 more to finish their job — which could easily have been accomplished through a list of possibilities that member Nancy Driggs provided — the Budget Committee voted to reverse course, going so far as to assume that eliminating trash pickup would save $500,000, well beyond the administrator’s estimate.

The fix was in, and Durfee told Ms. Driggs it wasn’t worth going through her list because it “won’t win the day.”  The committee held no public hearing and voted on the change to trash within minutes of Saurette’s first description.

The next day, Deborah Janick took to Facebook, writing, “I truly hope Tiverton residents get angry.”  For some, though, that pain wasn’t enough.  Joanne Arruda wrote, “These cuts shouldn’t end with trash – snow plowing should be next.”

Any budget decisions causing real harm and inconvenience to the people of Tiverton will not be the result of the FTR vote.  They will be a result of the anger and frustration of people who think they are entitled to whatever tax money they say they need — people whom we should not trust with public office ever again.

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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