2009-07-30 / News

New Jamestown taxpayer group holds first meeting

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Taxpayers Association took a major step this week toward defining itself with the formal adoption of a charter. Approximately 20 members of the fledgling group turned out for its first meeting at the Senior Center in Jamestown.

The charter adopted by the group is based on the charter of a similar group in Little Compton, although it has been revised for applicability to Jamestown. The charter, which was not immediately available to the public, was handily approved, though the adoption vote was delayed by discussions on amendments that could affect the mission of the group.

Both amendments involved charter language that would allow the group to endorse political candidates. The least-debated proposal was posed as a request to ensure that group endorsements were not limited to political candidates or concerns specific to Jamestown.

A much more controversial proposal – offered by Varoujan Karentz – would delete the language on political endorsements altogether. Karentz argued that “we might like a candidate because he or she agrees with our position on a particular issue, but the candidate might have other views on other issues [that members of the group might not support].”

Karentz added that the group “could still endorse a candidate [without enabling endorsement language] if the time was right,” and urged the group to table its vote until the language was excised, thereby ensuring that it would never feel that endorsements should be issued. But the group was not inclined to wait, and chose to table the amendments instead.

Jerry Scott, who opposed any delay in a vote on the charter, said, “[The] Little Compton [taxpayers group] has been accomplishing what I’ve wanted to do in Jamestown for 18 years, which is eliminating ridiculous spending and having some sense of control.”

Group Chairman John Pagano added that the fledgling group was insufficiently developed to think about endorsing any candidates for Town Council before the November election, anyway. However, he suggested inviting council candidates (who must declare their candidacies by Aug. 20) to group meetings.

Despite the debate on political endorsements, the group – whose full name is the Jamestown Taxpayers Association: Advocates for Common Sense – is positioning itself as politically non-partisan. By remaining politically neutral, Pagano said, the group will have much more latitude for, and potential impact from, its efforts.

The group was presented with its first opportunity for advocacy during the meeting.

The issue is a proposed arrangement for a sailing school at Ft. Getty. As stated in the Town Council goals for 2008-2009, the Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee was directed to “work with FAST sailing organization to determine feasibility of sailing school at Ft. Getty.”

The work has reached the point of a draft lease for the FAST facility, but the Town Council recently tabled its vote on the lease to allow additional time for the sailing group to provide more specifics about the facility it is planning for the site.

Susan Little, who had obtained a copy of the draft lease, said she was “glad to see a delay in the vote” because of potential municipal burdens and liabilities arising from the pending relationship.

Little said she was not sure if the lease had been drafted by FAST or by a town attorney, but several group members raised concerns about language saying Jamestown would “maintain” the property.

“If the town is ‘maintaining’ the property, and, God forbid, a child drowns, the town would be named in any resulting litigation,” Pagano said.

It was also unclear what the specific maintenance costs would be, Little said.

“FAST would build the facility, but what comes after that? There will be insurance and utilities to pay, sails to buy, motorboat engines to maintain, and three instructor salaries,” she said.

“I am not opposed to development at Ft. Getty, but I am opposed to any possibility that town taxes will increase by hundreds of dollars a year because the town has committed to a sailing school,” Pagano said. “The [draft lease] would allow facility investments to offset rent, which means that they will always be building or making improvements in lieu of rent, so there might never be any revenue for the town.”

David Cain put his opposition to the draft lease in stronger terms.

“We are not well informed [about the draft lease], but neither is the council. It would be irresponsible for them to sign this document without a detailed knowledge of all the financial implications it brings.”

The Jamestown Taxpayers Association will meet again on Aug. 10.

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