Original Reports

No Need for Budget Committee’s Reckless Vengeance of Ending Trash Pickup

By far the most controversial move in the recent history of Tiverton budgeting was the Budget Committee’s decision to reduce the budget for rubbish/recycling collection by $500,000 — from $644,697 to $144,697.  Effectively, if the Town Council follows the budget, this move kills the long-standing government service of curbside trash pickup in Tiverton.

Led by committee member Louise Durfee (who was not elected to her seat, but was appointed by the Town Council), with the assistance of Town Treasurer Denise Saurette, the committee assumed that the Town Council would implement a system of charging a per-household fee to continue trash pickup.  The committee members who voted to eliminate trash pickup were: Louise Durfee, Alex Cote, Deb Janick, Josh Mello, Madeline O’Dell, Laura Epke, and John Souza.

At best, this represents a ploy to invalidate voters’ choice at this year’s financial town referendum (FTR), renaming a tax increase as a fee increase.  At worst, it puts the service in a death spiral if enough residents decide not to sign up for trash pickup that the fee must be so high that it doesn’t make financial sense.

Whatever the case — and despite repeated assertions by committee members and their supporters — the move was entirely unnecessary.  In fact, after the first of the Budget Committee’s two meetings following the FTR, the members had achieved 84% of the necessary adjustments to their original budget proposal without touching trash pickup.

Just after the FTR results were certified, this site published a document presenting $1.7 million of possible adjustments — not including trash — from which the Budget Committee need only have selected less than half, or $782,895. The summary of those suggests was as follows:

Justin Katz Budget Adjustment Strategy Summary
Adjusted discretionary expenditures $1,123,389
5% savings on immediately negotiable contracts $152,820
25% savings on dispersed expenditures $20,659
Savings from holding line items flat (cumulative) $288,321
Savings identified in Sousa Budget #3 (cumulative) $150,278
Total savings before corrections and priorities $1,735,467
Required reductions based on FTR result – $782,895
Possible reductions to be restored based on priorities $952,572

Shortly thereafter, Town Administrator Matthew Wojcik presented the Town Council (and Budget Committee) with a list of “budget concepts and considerations,” providing additional possibilities, as follows (note that the table infers totals from the administrator’s narrative explanations):

Town Administrator BUDGET ADJUSTMENT Concepts SUMMARY
Switch eligible retirees to Medicare $131,350
Executive staff health insurance savings $6,363
Health insurance savings in current negotiations $35,856
Implement opt-out provisions for health insurance $92,892
Discontinue trash pickup (maximum) $300,000
Close the Senior Center $127,121
Lower the police pension payment $196,000
Reduce revaluation line item $28,000
Total possible savings $917,582
Subtract revaluation (necessary legislation failed) – $28,000
Subtract overlap with Katz proposal – $152,047
Subtract trash elimination – $300,000
Total new non-trash reduction options $437,535

When it met on June 9 to begin addressing the voters’ requirement of lower spending and a smaller tax increase, the Budget Committee held votes totaling 84% of the necessary reductions. (Note that the enforcement clerk line adds in benefits savings that were not part of the initial vote).

Budget Committee ADJUSTMENTs During First Post-FTR Meeting
Senior Center siding project $13,000
Heating project fire station 1 $20,000
Grinnell’s Beach cesspool removal project $5,000
DPW catch basin project $65,000
Advertising/ordinance reduction $7,000
Cancel new code enforcement clerk (incl. benefits) $59,545
Cancel new part-time building inspector $18,720
Police pension payment reduction $100,000
Reduce library grant increase $16,400
Switch eligible retirees to Medicare $131,350
Reduce abatements $25,000
Reduce paving $100,000
Refinance Fort Barton debt $93,500
Total voted-for savings $654,515
Subtract abatements (comes from revenue, not expense) – $25,000
Subtract overlap with Katz proposal – $281,585
Subtract overlap with Wojcik concepts – $131,350
Subtract paving reduction – $100,000
Total new non-trash, non-paving reduction options $116,580

Unfortunately, the committee did not stick to that plan when it met again on June 14.  Instead, the committee ignored a list of smaller, widely dispersed reductions from member Nancy Driggs that would have more than covered the remaining difference and went straight after trash pickup.  Consequently, in summary:

Despite having $2.3 million worth of suggestions that would not have included the broadly harmful reductions in trash and paving, despite having achieved 84% of the necessary adjustments during its first post-FTR meeting without touching trash pickup, despite lacking the authority to make policy changes (like implementing a new trash fee), despite the fact that voters clearly wanted to see a lower budget, not to exchange new taxes for new fees, the Budget Committee undid many of its prior votes deliberately to harm the greatest number of Tiverton residents, even though trash pickup is currently under contract for another year and even though the administrator’s analysis stated that trash elimination would not save nearly $500,000



Justin Katz

Justin 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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