2009-08-13 / News

Taxpayer advocacy group flags top issues

By Phil Zahodiakin

Jamestown Taxpayers Association members have identified the upcoming police contract negotiations as the single most-pressing issue demanding its near-term attention. A proposed sailing school and revisions to the Jamestown charter rounded out the “top three” issues that the fledgling group selected from a list of five during an Aug. 10 meeting at the Jamestown Grange.

The 24-member group, whose full name is the Jamestown Taxpayers Association: Advocates for Common Sense, debated several topics in addition to the five selected by Chairman John Pagano.

Pagano stressed that the vote was not intended to pick the “most important issues,” but, rather, to select “the three issues which, given the size of our group, would allow us to have the most impact in the short term.”

The police contract is an issue for the group because, among other reasons, the contract expires in December, along with the contract for town employees. Frank Meyer said that “the amount of overtime paid to our police should be forced into the open” even though “the negotiations have to be held in secret if one or the other party requests secret negotiations.” The police contract elicited less debate – for now – than the other issues on the list of five. The Town Council recently considered whether a sailing school should be allowed at Fort Getty, which drew the same number of votes from group members as Jamestown charter revisions as an issue on which the group should focus its attention.

However, the council “is not discussing costs and burdens in any detail,” said David Cain, who added, “It appears to me that the town recreation department is already operating at a deficit, which begs the question: Is a sailing school fiscally responsible?”

Pagano said the question posed by Cain was particularly appropriate “when you consider that FAST [which would build the facility and run the school] is asking for a 20-year lease – and this is a lease that’s extremely nebulous. If the town is going to be responsible for buying the boats and maintaining the buildings, they would be locked into a major financial commitment which, in my opinion, will never be offset by rent [because FAST could submit its bills for facility improvements in lieu of rent].”

The issue of town charter revisions has arisen because the group wants to ensure, Cain said, that “we have the ability to impact agenda topics before the council votes on them. The inability of the public to have meaningful input and participation is exclusionary government.” Cain added that he was pleased to learn that revising the town charter is possible through ballot referenda because the process is otherwise procedurally complicated and drawn-out (although it’s up to the council to put proposed revisions on the ballot).

The other two issues on the “top five” list included the proposal to designate Shoreby Hill as a historic district (which, Meyer said, was a “selfish thing that the town shouldn’t be involved with”), and the equity of wild disparities in real estate re-assessments resulting from such factors as “incompetent appraisals” in some neighborhoods and big-ticket sales in others.

The group, which plans to invite council candidates to its meetings starting in September, will next meet on Monday, Aug. 24.

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