Perhaps the central concern TTA has with the changes to the Home Rule Charter that the Town Council has placed on next week’s ballot is one of trust. With the gambling revenue (Question 10), for example, council members have shifted what they say the change would do as well as what they think it should do.
Among the latest assertions has been that the council can’t spend money off the budget by law. Put aside the fact that the council’s lawyer, Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto, has been arguing the exact opposite for more than a year. Section 203 of the Tiverton Home Rule Charter permits the Town Council to spend up to $500,000 at a time without voter approval. In 2014, the Town Council decided to buy the gas station at Grinnell’s Beach using this provision, and they made that decision in executive session (that is, without public debate).
But that isn’t all. Among the matters discussed by town’s Budget Committee earlier this year was the use of police detail fees to buy cars for the force. Whenever the town’s officers are present on a non-official detail, such as road construction, the town receives a fee for the officer’s time and for his or her vehicle. The practice has been to treat this money as a negative expense, rather than revenue that appears in the budget process.
Another example is the stamp tax, or the money that the town collects when real estate is transferred from one party to another. At a 1999 financial town meeting, voters passed a referendum to provide 60% of this revenue to the open space commission. Referendums at annual budget votes are only supposed to be good for the year that they are passed, but this stamp tax division has continued ever since, with the town simply not reporting the revenue in the budget on which we vote. In the current fiscal year, an estimated $105,000 in revenue was simply not acknowledged.
These are just the off-budget spending items that have come to light recently. Who knows what other side deals and special arrangements exist?
However one feels about any of these uses of government money, these examples show that nobody should believe that the Town Council will feel legally obligated to put gambling revenue in the budget if Question #10 gives the council control over it.