Vote in the June 1st, 2015 Financial Referendum For Charlestown’s Beautiful Natural Environment

On this Page: Brief overview of budget and ballot questions; FAQs on the two open space questions; Letters and other posts on this year’s budget topics. Scroll down for all the content.

Charlestown Financial Referendum
Monday, June 1st, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Charlestown Town Hall

The Town Charter requires that the Annual Financial Referendum be held on the first Monday in June from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Total Charlestown Budget for 2015/2016 is made up of the already approved Chariho Budget and the Municipal Budget as follows:

  • Chariho School Budget = $14,264,152 (already approved)
  • Municipal Budget = $12,696,492 (to be voted on June 1)
  • Total Budget (if approved) = $26,960,644

This will result in a tax rate of $10.10 per thousand. Charlestown’s tax rate will continue to be one of the lowest in Rhode Island. You can read the entire budget at the Town’s website.

On the ballot there are three other budget questions. Two from the Town Council on open space protection, and one from a citizen group for construction projects at Ninigret Park. The two open space questions are explained on this page in the tabs above and the FAQs below. If you have questions that are not answered here, please send your question to us by email at mail@charlestowncitizens.org.

Frequently Asked Questions About Question 1 – Open Space

  • Charlestown still has thousands of acres of land that are not developed and are open to development. A $2 million bond will buy only a modest percentage of what is left. If the bond is not passed and our open space acquisition program ends, then no additional land will be protected and all remaining unprotected land will be developed.

    6575.28 acres of land in charlestown has some kind of protection. This is 30% of the total land area of the town. The opponents to open space funding will claim that half of the town is protected open space – the real percentage is 30% to 35% depending on how you count Tribal land.

    These lands include large areas of wetland in Burlingame and other wetland properties and ponds that would not be available for development even if they were still privately owned. Wetlands are important for wildlife, so we are glad they are protected by the wetlands law, but the amount of land that the public has access to is not excessive and is certainly not half of the town.

    If you include the Narragansett tribe’s Indian Cedar Swamp land of 1118 acres, you can increase the percentage to 35%, but these lands are entirely wetlands and would not be developable either even if they have some protection and there is also no public access to tribal land.

    The way the opponents of land conservation get their number is to count the old town dump, the DOT salt barn, group homes, the elementary school, town hall, police station, drainage easements, buffers in subdivisions, median strips on Rt. 1, parking lots, and lots more land that is either not protected or is not open space at all.

    Opponents of open space like to count over 1000 acres of land enrolled in a tax program called “farm forest and open space” as protected land. This is a temporary tax status, not a land protection program. That land is available for development and many of the subdivisions the Planning Commission reviews are enrolled or recently enrolled in that tax category.

    When all the remaining land is developed, the residents will certainly be aware that they are not living in a town that is half open space, but by then it will be too late.

  • Approval of the bonds will allow the Town to respond to opportunities for land acquisition and provide matching funds to be used in conjunction with State Environmental Management Bonds, funding from US Fish and Wildlife Service and funds from private organizations such as The Nature Conservancy or Champlin Foundation.

  • Up to $2,000,000, but only as needed over time. Over the past 20 years the Town has spent open space bond funds at an average rate of $250K per year. The bonds are meant to be used in response to grant funding or partnership opportunities. The previous open space bond of $2M was not borrowed until 9 years after voter approval.

  • To ensure that the Town gains the greatest benefit from its funds by selectively acquiring property for open space, the Charlestown Comprehensive Plan has established criteria for the evaluation of open space purchases. In brief these criteria include:

    • Ecologically significant habitat
    • Ground water protection potential
    • Proximity to Other Protected Land or To Surface Water Bodies or Inclusion within Critical Acquisition Areas
    • Opportunities for Passive Recreation and Public Access to Recreation Areas
    • Farmland preservation
    • Historic/cultural/scenic qualities
    • Potential to offset the impact of residential development
    • Size of parcel

    In the case of projects that are ranked equally using the above eight criteria, the Town may assign a higher priority to projects that are jointly funded through non-municipal sources and which require a lesser share of Town funding.

  • Open space purchases that receive partial funding from state government or private conservation groups are protected by conservation easements and deed restriction. This means these lands and the natural resources they contain will be protected forever for future generations.

  • Like Charlestown’s other open space lands, new open space will provide public access to hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, biking, swimming, fishing, boating, horseback riding and more. In addition to providing public access and great opportunities for outdoor recreation, these lands will provide critical wildlife habitat, protect our drinking water, and protect our town’s beautiful natural character. Find out more about passive recreation in Charlestown at charlestowncitizens.org/guide-to-open-space/

  • When land is developed it can create both fiscal and environmental costs. New development requires support in the form of roads, schools, police, fire protection and other services. Development also impacts the quantity and quality of our drinking water and the health of our rivers and ponds. While the net economic impact of new residential development is often negative, the net impact of undeveloped open space is positive. Open space protects our community’s scenic character and environment, but it also has the potential to create jobs, provide recreational opportunities, enhance property values, attract tourists, hold down the cost of community services and improve the quality of life.

  • Passive recreation is defined as outdoor recreational activities that require a minimum of facilities or development and that have minimal environmental impact on the recreational site. In a passive recreational site, development is usually limited to that needed for public access and would include parking areas and trails.

    Activities in a passive recreation area are anything but “passive”. In Charlestown these can include hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. Some sites include trails for horses or mountain bikes, but none allow motorized vehicles.

    Active recreation can be sedentary, such as sitting to watch a movie or other event. The names “active” and “passive” have nothing to do with the activity level, but rather the relationship with land. Active recreation can alter the landscape significantly, can include buildings and roads, and generally requires staffing and programming. Passive recreation is intended to leave the land in its natural state and doesn’t require staff or programming.

Frequently Asked Questions About Question 2 – Easement

  • A conservation easement is a no-cost insurance policy for land.

    The award of a conservation easement is a willful act that protects the land from future use for other purposes, without the mutual consent of the town and the easement holder. It does not change ownership of the land.

    A conservation easement is a power invested in a qualified private land trust or government to exercise rights otherwise held by the town to achieve certain conservation and public access purposes. The conservation easement “runs with the land,” meaning it is applicable to both present and future owners of the land. As with other real property interests, the grant of conservation easement is recorded in the local land records; the grant becomes a part of the chain of title for the property.

    The conservation easement’s purposes will vary depending on the character of the particular property and the goals and needs of the town. For example, an easement’s purposes might include any one or more of the following:

    • Maintain and improve water quality;
    • Perpetuate the growth of healthy forest;
    • Maintain and improve wildlife habitat and migration corridors;
    • Protect scenic vistas visible from roads and other public areas; or
    • Ensure that lands are managed so that they are always available for public access and recreation
  • The Charlestown Moraine Preserve makes up almost one mile of an iconic stretch of Route 1 between Kings Factory Road and Prosser Trail. This was the largest remaining, undisturbed and unprotected section of the Charlestown Moraine. The Moraine is an internationally recognized geologic feature and the ecosystems it supports are unique. The unfragmented forest of this parcel, the stream draining School House Pond, and the rapidly draining soils work together to protect the water quality of the Coastal Ponds. Mountain laurel occurs in beautiful, dense, well-developed stands and vernal pools support some of Rhode Island’s most endangered wildlife. A parking area and hiking trails provide public access. A conservation easement is needed to protect all of this for future generations.

  • A conservation easement is a deed restriction with a partner in conservation that protects open space from unintended uses in future years. (For example, South Farm Preserve is protected by an easement by DEM and The Nature Conservancy holds an easement on Richard Trails). The 75 acre Charlestown Moraine Preserve was not purchased as part of a partnership and is not yet protected with an easement. The Town Charter requires that voters now approve the easement.

  • Any of the conservation organizations that the Town has partnered with before on land preservation including the Department of Environmental Management, Charlestown Land Trust, or The Nature Conservancy could hold an easement to ensure that the land is always used for its original intention.

  • There is no cost to the taxpayers to transfer an easement to a conservation organization. The organization that takes the easement is assuming the burden of the easement as part of its normal responsibilities to work in the public interest and protect the environment.

  • The current Town Council supports natural resource protection, but future town governments may not. The land may need voter approval to be sold, but the use can change with a simple vote of the Town Council. Past Town Council members have proposed town open space land be used for municipal buildings, housing, and one interpreted “recreation” to include a casino. Easements have protected existing town open space from these uses. Citizens could go to court every time a Town Council attempted to use the land inappropriately, but a conservation easement is a much stronger and cheaper insurance policy.