Comments and Questions from You

Our email box has been jammed with comments and questions from you-we are trying to get to all of them. Here are some:

Comments from You:
The State of the Union Address highlighted the Administration’s National Policy toward the growing separation of rich and poor. As a national policy, to bring the ends of the economic spectrum closer together is a rational approach. At the national level, the Federal Government has the authority and power to set income tax levels for corporations and individuals. At the state level, Rhode Island sets its income tax accordingly. However, at the local level, the town of Charlestown, as all other towns in the state, is basically restricted to setting tax rates for property.

Locally, there has been an effort to translate the Administration’s policy to the local level, to link income to property tax. To try to morph the Administration’s policy on income into a local policy on property is ill-advised and completely unfair. In November, the Charlestown Town Council was presented with a proposal to unequally apply the town’s property tax against part-time residents, who do not have voting representation in favor of full-time residents who have voting representation. Using a homestead argument, the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee attempted to curry the favor of the voter with a proposal that would decrease voter taxes and increase taxes of seasonal residents. A group that steals from Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul. Unfair, ill-advised, and unwise, divisive, and polarizing were some of the descriptions of this proposal. Some Town Council members saw through the thinly veiled attempt to steal from Peter and by vote of 3-0 (2 abstentions) wisely voted against the proposal. It was amazing that two abstained!

Subsequently, the Democratic Town Committee turned the argument into rich against poor and that the poor of Charlestown needed to get relief from their tax burden. They politicized this argument by showing the supposed differences among selected groups in the town. Politics is not the answer; politics is the cause of the problem. These political proponents have not arrived at the crux of the problem. Because the tax rate is applied equally across the board, the tax rate is not the problem; besides the tax rate is the third lowest in the state. Another element in the tax process that the Committee could argue against is property value assessments. Understanding this element requires an in-depth look at the tax structure that may not fit into national policy implementation at the local level. It used to be said that an argument was sexy if it had appeal at an ephemeral level and that is what the rich vs. poor argument is at the local level. However, when that argument gets focused on local issues it falls apart rather quickly. Unless, of course, someone devotes the time and energy to show that the property assessments were unfair.

Under State law, (§ 44-5-26 Petition in superior court for relief from assessment), is a process for individuals to appeal their tax burden. Less than one percent of the residents of Charlestown have appealed their tax burden and from 2008-2010: less than 50 appeals were filed. The town works with the taxpayer to ease the payment burdens but unfortunately about ten properties per year from 2008-2011 resulted in foreclosure. How this situation compares to similar circumstances in other towns could be investigated and maybe the CDTC could report on the results.

As taxpayers, all we can do is to pay attention to local issues and not be swayed by glib national policy statements and those who echo them at the local level. We need to understand the arguments, the proposed solutions, and their impacts on our life in Charlestown. We need to separate political hyperbole from concrete local issues.

Questions from You:
Regarding OPEB payments is medicare primary and the OPEB plan secondary, or is the OPEB plan primary?

Regarding the MERS plan which is a State Run Plan, is it solvent, and will it be down the road? If the State plan is questionable wouldn’t a Charlestown 401 plan be better?

What is the “Unfunded liability” for town employees’ retirement health insurance? How much of this unfunded liability has been funded by Charlestown? What should be the level of funding for this unfunded liability on an annual basis, according to accepted accounting practices?
Editor’s Note- In the recently completed audit, the total OPEB liability as of 7/1/09, the latest year reported is $4,947,000. The Town has been funding the OPEB liability at about $385,000 per year since 2009, one of the first years that the Town needed to fund OPEB. Additionally, the Town’s employees contributed $181,000 into OPEB too. The balance in the OPEB fund as of 6/30/2011 was $1,441,290, or about 29%. In 2009 that number was 10.2%, so the Town is contributing the right amount of money to increase the fund over time.

I was wondering if any of you had been aware of a proposal by one of the area’s farmers to remove rotting sea grass from properties around Ninigret Pond?

There was an article in the Westerly Sun a few years ago that this person would remove this organic “mulch “and use it to fertilize his soil. There was to be no charge for the property owner and the farmer could use this organic matter, sort of “quid pro quo”. As a property owner on Pond Street in Charlestown RI, I feel this proposal would have been a solution to a long-standing problem. The stagnation of the decaying organic matter on the pond adjacent to many properties creates a noxious odor in the summer months that greatly detracts from the area. I appreciate the Alliance for taking the time to read this.
Editor’s Note: We suggest you contact the Salt Ponds Coalition to find out the latest information about this proposal. They are at: saltpondscoalition@gmail.com

Please tell me what an RFP is. see your statement below:
The TA and Police Chief have sent out an RFP to install red light cameras to reduce accidents at corners. The Town has 5 red lights.

Editor’s Note: It means Request For Proposals. It’s similar to bidding on a construction project, but also means they design the project or solution to a request. So they will propose a project and also estimate the cost. It would make more sense if we had the text of the RFP. We’ll look for it.

Here’s a link to all of our comments: http://charlestowncitizens.org/mailbox/your-comments/

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Charlestown Citizens Alliance Steering Committee