Along with the increasing cacophony of birds and fireworks, we know we must be well into spring in Tiverton as one hears the familiar calls of the town-government budgeters: “Raise taxes. We have no money. Raise taxes.” This comes after the 3.5% increase in our taxes we endured just a handful of months ago.
In fact, if the budget that the Budget Committee just passed prevails at the financial town referendum (FTR), Tiverton will see its biggest tax increase in eleven years — back before there was an FTR. But even in the wake of a devastating pandemic, the town government insists that it needs $1,422,564 more of your money because otherwise it won’t have the money it needs to operate.
Don’t believe it.
Information is delayed, this year, and the Town Council and administrator, as well as School Committee and superintendent, are actively keeping their real expectations quiet. Still, a little bit of research shows that the Budget Committee almost certainly set its budget without showing millions of dollars in revenue.
Casino revenue is somewhat controversial. The Town Council passed an ordinance (that some argue was illegal) in order to seize control of the gambling revenue of the town. Whether the ordinance was legal or not, the money should at least be reflected in the budget somehow, even if as restricted funds, but it’s not.
How much will that be?
As of the beginning of this month, $961,198 was already in that account, but that doesn’t include the big final payment for the year, so the total will likely hit around $1.4 million. Meanwhile, the Town Council and administrator are quietly talking with the state without letting residents know what’s going on, and there’s reason to believe that another $1.3 million will be contributed this year.
For next year, with COVID restrictions lifting and vaccination making another lock-down unlikely, the town can reasonably expect the full $3 million minimum casino revenue next year. To ensure that amount, our local representatives have finally put in legislation to close the loophole that allowed the state to renege on its minimum in the first place.
So, by the end of next year, there could be up to $5,700,000 in that account.
According to WPRI, the federal government has multiple funnels of cash pointed at Tiverton.
The town is estimated to get $1,550,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, which may all or, at least, partly be able to offset existing costs.
An additional pot of money is estimated to send Tiverton government around $194 per resident, or $3,068,304, with unknown strings.
Yet another pot of money is less defined, except that it goes to schools. A source tells me the number $1,700,000 has been mentioned, but if the total for the state ($374,000,000) is distributed on a per-student basis, our town would get $4,543,870. If the total is distributed the same way state education aid is distributed, Tiverton would get $2,423,064.
Even if we pick the lowest option for extra school money, the town is on track to receive up to $6,318,304 in federal aid that is not shown in the budget.
Finally, the town has its own revenue, and we’re on track to end this fiscal year on June 30 with more than predicted.
As of the end of April (with two months remaining in the budget year), 26 revenue accounts were already in surplus by a total of $1,692,706.
If the accounts that are currently in deficit average out to reach the estimates (or if the surplus accounts gain enough over the last two months to make up for them), the town won’t have to use any of the money that was budgeted to be withdrawn from the general fund reserve to balance the budget this year, leaving it all for next year.
That number is $1,674,993.
The Crumbs They Wouldn’t Throw Us
Adding all that up would mean $13,693,297 that the town government and school department will have available next year that we’re not going to be allowed to consider when we vote at the FTR in July unless an elector petition is submitted and our power-crazy Board of Canvassers doesn’t block it from going on the ballot.
In the most extreme, that could provide massive (32%) tax relief.
But even just using $1.5 million could give taxpayers a break with a 0% budget at a time when many people are still struggling to get by and when some taxpayers are going to see big increases just based on property revaluations. That would still leave about $12 million as a cushion if the estimates are off and/or to spend on other things. Don’t forget that the increase the town pushed through in the midst of the pandemic for the current fiscal year was 3.5%.
That’s how it works, though. They hide as much money as they can so that they can take more from you.