To the Editor:
One of the many great things about the financial town referendum (FTR) is there will be no last-second surprises and we’ve had several weeks to consider the proposals before voting. Unfortunately, as we are seeing, this hasn’t stopped the personal attacks, manipulation of numbers, and scare tactics that are now standard practice from some who in the same breath lecture all of us on community values. At least now there’s time to respond.
Proposal #1 calls for higher taxes, deliberate underestimation of revenues so town surpluses continue to grow, and much higher baseline spending partially disguised by ending our annual contributions to the landfill closure account. By shortchanging the landfill and rejecting capital purchases that would be responsibly paid in full within one budget cycle, Proposal #1 appears to spend less on the municipal budget but actually spends far more over time. Proposal #1 is championed mostly by those who, ironically, in past years supported the depletion of Town reserves far below the 3% charter requirement while raising spending and taxes dramatically, and who just recently fought against the FTR tooth and nail.
Proposal #2, on the other hand, is mostly based on the Town Administrator and Town Council’s carefully crafted budget and policies meant to support long-term stability. It is attractive not only for its low 1.1% tax increase, but also because it cautiously accounts for prior years of overtaxation. Tiverton will not soon forget hearing the same tactics being repeated today that were used by familiar voices to break tax caps during the recession, only to end up with multiple $750,000 surpluses. Past experience should be a guide when considering the doomsday scenarios floated by those looking for higher taxes, higher surpluses, and higher multi-year spending.
Some critics of Proposal #2 seem intent, as is their usual routine, to distract from its broad support by personalizing their criticism against petitioner and councilor David Nelson. It looks like that so long as the sun rises over Tiverton, we will have to cope with personal attacks and false criticisms against Mr. Nelson. I won’t waste time responding to obviously selective statistics or slanderous rhetoric against TCC, though I can’t help but note that Mr. Nelson can’t seem to catch a break from these dozen or so folks consumed by anti-TCC hatred even when he proposes tax and spending increases.
Instead, I’ll focus on the more reasonable questions about revenues and surpluses. The Town Administrator/Council’s budget, which I support, earmarked about $200,000 out of the $45,000,000 budget for neglected capital needs payable in full with no future budget impact. This is not from “phantom” revenue, but an audited, confirmed surplus from last year. Taxes are also kept down to 1.1% because it stops underestimating revenues which cause these surpluses. Why keep overtaxing when we have a recent history of surpluses?
One argument we’ve heard to grow surpluses is to make bonds supposedly easier and cheaper to get. In my nearly four years of asking, no one has yet been able to answer how much bond interest would be saved, if any at all, with higher reserves. Our current bonds have fixed interest rates, so this speculation can only apply to new bonds. But does it make sense to take $7M from taxpayers (per the stated goal of one Budget Committee member) and park it in a bank account just to have a theoretical but unproven lower interest rate on a $3M library bond? Of course not. So maybe their agenda is for the Town to issue even more bonds, but with the several bonds we are paying on now and another one coming next year, I don’t think we should be going even further into debt.
Critics also seem to forget that the municipal government does not spend its entire budget on the first day of the year. Like all of us do in our household and business budgets, if revenue comes in short as the year goes on, we deal with it by spending less and then adjust for the next year’s budget cycle. The sky also won’t fall because the Town Council’s policies encourage savings and prepare for unforeseen expenses like abnormally snowy winters without overbudgeting. (One more reason to vote against Resolution #4, which attempts to override our Town Charter on this.)
So with proper budgeting and oversight, 1.1% should be more than enough. Regardless, no one has the right to attack you for voting for 1.1% for no other reason than the bills on your kitchen table. It’s your money. It’s your home. It’s your town. And it’s the government’s job to do the best it can with what you can afford. Not to run every play in the book at you because a million dollar increase every year (and four bonds) somehow isn’t enough for the school department. You also don’t lose any moral high ground by supporting lower taxes. An estimated 2,000 of our Tiverton neighbors are unemployed or underemployed. For them, every dollar counts. I’m voting yes on #2 for them.
Again, though, it’s not just about taxes or just one budget year. Proposal #2 doesn’t redirect funds from our landfill account to support higher baseline spending. It funds wastewater planning to keep DEM lawsuits at bay. It pays for capital needs like a Jaws of Life rescue tool with – and this is important - payment in full rather than lock in budget increases forever. Like any budget, it’s not perfect but I believe it’s the better choice. Public works, street paving, library, labor negotiations…the list goes on and on and #2 gets it right on many essential line items with a long-term vision.
The resolutions also matter. Proper financial planning and policies build a strong foundation to meet our needs while keeping taxes down, consistently, without episodes of wild overtaxation and always being in crisis mode. To do this, vote yes on Budget Proposal #2, and just as importantly, vote no on Resolution #4 and yes on Resolution #5. Please do not hesitate to call me at 401-525-0469 if I can help answer any questions. Thank you.
Tiverton Town Councilor
Former Vice Chairman, Budget Committee