2009-06-18 / Front Page

New group raises concerns about local political issues

By Sam Emrich

A group of Jamestowners wants to organize so they can provide a new voice for residents who are concerned about local and national issues.

The group held its first meeting on June 10 at the Jamestown Senior Center. Formerly called the Republican and Independent Voters Coalition, the group discussed plans to change its name to avoid political party affiliation. As a coalition for concerned citizens and taxpayers of Jamestown, attendee Jill Meyer described the organization more “like a watchdog group.”

The meeting was attended by about 20 Jamestowners, who shared ideas and brainstormed. They discussed local, state and national issues. They talked about taxes on the island and the passage of new White House policies. The nearly two-hour-long meeting consisted of open public discussion. Volunteer speakers voiced their concerns and offered solutions to the problems addressed.

Upcoming elections to the school committee, town council and renegotiation of the police contract were brought up. The group wants to build a strong organiza- tion and increase its membership in hopes of supporting future candidates for the state legislature.

Taxes on the island were a pressing issue at the meeting. “Everyone in the room feels taxes are too high federally, state and locally,” said Frank Willis, a coalition member. Willis expressed concern over paying taxes when citizens are unaware of how and why the money is spent. “Where does our money go?” he said. “I want to know. What does it really cost for any given item and why?”

Tony Antine agreed and said taxes should be lowered. “We should cut the taxes in this town,” he said. “We’re heading towards socialism. Pretty soon, you run out of somebody else’s money. I think that’s where we’re going.”

While the group agreed that the town’s budget this year is acceptable, several people said they expect next year will be harder for the island taxpayers. The town will have to use its “reserve funds,” they said.

“This year, we will be able to hold the budget,” said Norma Willis, the wife of Phil. “But, next year will be difficult.”

According to Antine, if taxes surge in the future, people will rally, but it could be too late. “We’re here to get a head start,” he said.

John Pagano said he was concerned about tax and equities per individual. Pagano says he experienced “prominent individuals” paying less “per square foot of their home” than him and other “normal” citizens, an injustice he seeks to eliminate.

Frank Willis offered suggestions for the cloudiness surrounding high taxes. “We need a breakdown, line-by-line, of the budget,” he said. “We need it in a spread sheet format and made available through the press.”

Donna Perry, who made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate last year, talked about the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, a group whose goals are similar to the Jamestowners’ efforts. “These taxpayer groups are fighting the same battle we are here,” she said.

“Police and firefighters do a great service to communities,” Perry said. “Not trying to be personal, but there comes a time when these pensions are not sustainable. One out of six pension checks is going to Florida. The money isn’t always kept in the state.”

Frank Meyer said he was concerned about police contracts, particularly in the areas of sick leave and overtime.

Other meeting attendees, such as longtime coalition member Bill Sprague, said that organizing locally is the best way to fight the national issues, the problems that concern him most. “I’m concerned about our ordained president,” Sprague said. “He has given a huge percentage of ownership to the union and plans to implement universal health care. This party needs to grow here so we can fight against what’s happening nationwide.”

Sprague was not the only one who addressed economic issues broader than finances on the island. Antine expressed concern over the devaluation of the dollar among other nations. “Russia and China don’t want to keep the dollar anymore because it’s too weak,” he said. “It needs to change. We have to start in Jamestown.”

Members were in agreement that starting locally is the best way to see desired results, but several people, including Jerry Scott, said they felt more community input is necessary. “My biggest problem is apathy – people just don’t care,” Scott said. “How many people showed up to the last town meeting? Five percent of the Jamestown population?”

The group also discussed ways to “stimulate” the population. They discussed the possibility of talking to Jamestowners through telephone or e-mail, writing letters to the editor and holding more meetings. “Jamestown, we all love it, it’s a beautiful town,” said Perry, “but we need to look down the line.”

At the end of the meeting, the group estalbished a committee to set goals and objectives.

The next meeting will be held Wednesday, June 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Senior Center.

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