2018-06-07 / Front Page

Town, school budgets coast at the polls

Tax rate of $8.85 is 2.2% higher than current year
BY TIM RIEL

It took voters exactly 60 minutes to pass a $24.3 million budget at the financial town meeting Monday, setting a property tax rate of $8.85 for fiscal year 2018- 19.

“I was pleased by the turnout and the community’s support for the budget,” Town Administrator Andy Nota said. “I just wish people would have gotten there a little earlier.”

Town Moderator John Murphy, waiting for 289 registered voters to file into the gymnasium at Lawn School, called the meeting to order a half-hour late.

“We had a meeting that lasted 21 minutes in 2013,” he quipped. “We have already destroyed that.”

The measure, which was approved by about 85 percent of the voters, is $585,000 more that the fiscal year that ends June 30. The increase to the tax rate denotes a 2.2 percent uptick, representing $95 more in taxes on a property assessed at $500,000.

Broken down, municipal operations are responsible for $10.7 million while it will cost $13.6 million for the schools. The education side, which is fueling more than three-fourths of the surge, represents a 4.3 percent increase of $476,140.

Kristine Trocki, who is serving her sixth consecutive year as town council president, outlined the overall budget by saying residents should not concern themselves with the finances of other municipalities. Jamestown, she said, has the third-lowest residential tax rate, the third-lowest commercial tax rate and the fourth-lowest excise tax in Rhode Island.

“In spite of what you may have heard around town in comparing us with our neighboring communities regarding overall financial health and fiscal management practices, we are different in many respects from our neighbors.” she said. “I’m glad we are, and I hope you are, too.”

Trocki was referencing a handout distributed by the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown. The flier urged voters to strike down the budget because of an excessive surplus and overpriced administrators at the schools.

The voters, however, did not acquiesce. Following a seconded motion to pass the municipal budget, Ocean Avenue resident Linda Jamison requested a paper ballot. To pass, 20 percent of registered voters in the audience would have had to support the motion, which translated to 58 votes. Despite Councilman Blake Dickinson’s support, only 44 taxpayers raised their hands. The budget then passed easily by voice vote.

The education budget that followed passed with just as much support, if not more. B.J. Whitehouse, chairman of the school board, highlighted the district’s impressive — and lengthy — list of accomplishments during his presentation.

“It’s because of your support that some of these things have transpired,” he told the voters. “No, it’s because of your support that all of these things have transpired.”

Whitehouse pointed to high school tuition for nine additional students as the driving force behind the increase.

“Each one of them, bless their little hearts, costs a little money,” he said.

The budget passed easily by voice vote, followed by three housekeeping warrants that were approved unanimously. The tax rate also was set without opposition. Murphy closed the meeting at 8:30 p.m.

Aside from Jamison, the only other resident to make a public comment was Clinton Street resident Valerie Southern, a former town councilor. She questioned the salary increases across the board, but Councilwoman Mary Meagher believed some of those numbers were being read incorrectly from the budget book. Regardless, Meagher said she supported the raises, which are about 2.5 percent annually.

In news unrelated to the budget that unfolded during the meeting, Trocki began her speech by saying, “This is very likely my last time before you,” lending validation to rumors she will not seek re-election in November.

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