2011-06-02 / Editorial

‘Vote for the warrant that calls for no tax increase’

By Blake Dickinson

If you are a taxpayer and you’ve never been to a Financial Town Meeting, make it a point to attend this year’s meeting on Monday, June 6. Your family’s financial future depends on it.

The town administrator and the town council will present a “recommended budget” to the citizens of Jamestown, which will require a 2.8 percent increase in our property taxes, or an additional $601,350. Unfortunately, this figure does not include the additional taxes you will eventually be required to pay for state and local government employee pension and retirement benefits, referred to as unfunded liabilities.

It should come as no surprise that the unfunded liability issue is rocking cities and towns statewide. According to the Providence Journal, Jamestown’s unfunded liability for schools as of July 1, 2009, is $14.15 million, and for police it is $1.67 million as of Jan. 1, 2009. The Jamestown Press reported recently that the town employee unfunded liability for 2009 was $4.5 million. We will also be responsible for a portion of the state employees’ pension and retirement benefits.

Our state leaders are just now developing a plan to deal with the unfunded liability issue. In the short term, they are planning to pass this liability onto the taxpayers. Unfortunately the problem is now out of control and it’s an unrealistic amount to collect from the taxpayers.

The Providence Journal reports that it will take an average of $30,000 per household to pay for this enormous shortfall. Imagine what your family could do with an extra $30,000. Now imagine how you will come up with $30,000 that you have to pay for a problem you didn’t create, while our state and local leaders continue to let costs spiral out of control. It is widely anticipated that the state will pass a supplemental tax bill to cities and towns after town budgets are passed. This means taxpayers will see taxes increase, not once, but twice this year – or at some point in the near future.

As president of the Taxpayers’ Association of Jamestown, I have submitted a warrant to the town requesting that the budget “be reduced by $601,350,” or by 2.8 percent. It’s important to note that this warrant is not asking the town to cut spending, but instead, contain spending at the current level. It’s the responsibility of the Town Council to make further cuts to achieve the yet unknown funds needed to plug the gap in the pension and retirement contributions for 2012. Even with cuts this year, the town will still need to deal with this problem annually as the pension gap continues to widen year to year.

The pension shortfall has been looming for years at both the local and state level. There has been time to deal with and plan for this problem. Our hope was that the town administrator and Town Council would have taken a proactive approach. Instead, we continue to see requests for tax increases and support for “niceto have” projects around town, when instead the focus should be on cost containment.

Other cities and towns all over Rhode Island are having this same conversation. The mayor of Pawtucket, for example, has proposed spending reductions that requires no increase in property taxes. The West Warwick Town Council has promised its taxpayers that they will make the necessary cuts in its town services and its workforce to contain spending at this year’s level. These government leaders are already making the tough choices that our elected officials should be making if we are to get through this difficult economic time.

There are no easy choices when it comes to controlling spending. We will all have to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure that the quality of life in Jamestown is not taxed beyond reach of many town residents. We hope that Town Administrator Bruce Kaiser, the Town Council and the School Committee will make thoughtful changes to this year’s budget. We also hope that they will not use our school children as pawns and resort to the fear mongering that has confused voters in past Financial Town Meetings. Let’s have an honest conversation this year about controlling spending.

Please encourage prudent cost containment practices by attending this year’s meeting on Monday evening and vote for the warrant that calls for no tax increase. Then maybe you will be able to afford the property taxes in Jamestown and to set aside some money for your own retirement.

The author is the president of the Taxpayers’ Association of Jamestown.

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