2012-05-31 / Editorial

It’s more than just pennies

VIEWPOINT
BY BLAKE DICKINSON

In years past, taxpayers of Jamestown have asked the town – based on the economy, pension liabilities and real issues with respect to spending in Jamestown – to either cut the growth in the budget, keep spending at the same level as previous years, or have directed cuts at targeted budget items.

Each year brings mixed success because it is difficult to convince fellow taxpayers why they should reject even an increase of one cent per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for these yearly increases to the town and school combined budget.

It was not until a Town Council budget workshop in March where the School Committee was presenting items of its proposed budget that I finally understood the challenges facing the taxpayers of Jamestown. During this meeting the town administrator made a remarkable admission. To paraphrase: government in Jamestown is not efficient.

Despite that admission, during the Financial Town Meeting season, town government enjoys talking about how low the tax rate is per $1,000 of assessed value in Jamestown, and they say this refl ects how well they run the town. In fact, it shows nothing of the sort. All the low tax rate shows is how high the property values are in Jamestown. It is not a measure of efficient government.

Did you know that Jamestown celebrates the second largest per capital tax burden in Rhode Island, a rate 50 percent higher than the state median per capita levy? Since 2001, the Jamestown combined budget has nearly doubled from $13,035,825 to $25,252,429

Using data made available at Town Hall for yearly assessed tax revenue, per capita levy statistics, and related demographic information, this point is easily reinforced. In the 10 years ending 2010, Jamestown’s population decreased by 5 percent, yet the number of people employed by the town rose by 20 percent. This was happening while the state unemployment rate increased by 6 percent in the same time period.

Is not that outrageous for taxpayers to expect that the town of Jamestown maintain its budget at last year’s level considering its real growth per capita. It is more than just pennies. Some feel that the town should begin improving its efficiency using a budget that worked last year before, yet again, asking for more this year. I am certain that the town can find the promised salary increases somewhere in its budget. As a casual observer of this process, the town always seems to find some reserve, leftover or unspent monies from somewhere.

This leads one to ask: Are we getting what we paid for? It is my recommendation that voters of Jamestown demand performance from the town government by rejecting the Town Council’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2012-13. After all, we are talking about pennies – that in the last 10 years amounts to more than $12 million.

The author is president of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown.

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