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No-Tax Hike Budget Up For Vote

Voters at Barrington's annual Financial Town Meeting on Wednesday to hear a proposed $61.9 million budget with no tax hike -- unless one of three motions on wood shop scuttles that plan.

Barrington’s annual Financial Town Meeting is Wednesday evening, May 23, and the wood shop at the middle school appears to be the only thing standing in the way of no tax hike.

Next fiscal year’s proposed spending plan stands at $61.9 million – the first budget without a tax hike in many years. It will be presented by Kathy Cadigan, chair of the Committee on Appropriations.

Registered voters will get a chance to sign off on that budget in the Barrington High School auditorium. The town meeting starts at 7 pm.

At least 35 voters must show up to hold a town meeting or the budget is approved automatically. And with no tax hike proposed for the combined $61.9 million in spending next year, the turnout could be sparse.

Three motions to save the wood shop, however, could generate a larger crowd than anticipated. All three motions have been filed by William and Kari Banas of Fales Avenue. The would like to add money to the school budget to save wood shop, cut by the School Committee. Their motions go up from $108,000 to $126,000 to $144,000.

The first motion seeks only to save a teaching position at the middle school. The latter two motions seek to save the position and bring the sawdust removal system up to the fire code.

Only the latter motion appears to save wood shop when the cost of bringing it up to code is added to the cost of a wood shop teacher. Voters would have to agree to add $144,000 to do that.

The increase would force a tax hike of at least 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, said Dean Huff, Barrington finance director. Each penny of increase brings in about $27,500, he said.

A resolution to continue a lease with Four Town Farms for 40 acres of town-owned land in Nockum Hill also is on the agenda. The lease would extend for another 20 years at a fee of $10,000 a year or $250 an acre. The land would have to be used for agricultural purposes.

Amendments for changes up to $50,000 in individual accounts can be made from the floor at the town meeting. The entire school budget is considered one account.

The Committee on Appropriations will present the spending plan. If approved, about 91 percent of the spending will come from Barrington property taxes. The rest will come from local and state fees and state aid.

The proposed school budget is about $44.56 million, an increase of approximately 2.7 percent or $1.19 million.

The proposed municipal budget is $16.61 million or 3.58 percent lower than the current spending plan.

Together with the capital budget, that computes to the same tax levy rate as in this year -- $17.95 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Other resolutions on the FTM agenda include:

  • Moving surplus funds for FY12 to the capital reserve account.
  • Issue emergency notes for emergency appropriations.
  • Issue tax-exemption notes.
Local Mom May 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Hoping they get a better turnout at this meeting than in years past. I contend that many may not realize how much they pay in prop taxes, much less notice an increase - tax bills often routinely sent to mortgage company and rolled into mortgage payment which is auto-deducted from bank acct - and voila! under the radar. Those watching more closely will be relieved to hear no increase, but not sure what it means in future years -nothings ever free. And then there's the question of whether or not the flailing State of RI will come forward with its funding commitment. Questions: 1) if State reneges on its commitment, where do extra funds come from (if anywhere)? 2) if the funding doesn't materialize, what is on list in town to be sacrificed? The DPW has once again already modified its anticipated spending to accommodate the school budget. 3) how did wood shop stay open while being out of code for so long (with middle schoolers using very dangerous power tools), and what would have happened if they hadn't decided to shut it down this year "to save $" - would it have stayed out of compliance? 4) anything else in the schools out of code/compliance to this degree? 5) how do we get the voting at town meetings changed so people can vote privately, instead of the current pressure cooker situation?
Linda May 22, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I absolutely agree that the voting needs to be changed to private to allow people to vote without pressure.
Manifold Witness May 22, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Good points, donut. At the Financial Town Meeting, business as usual will mean that lots of teachers will be there to vote. You make a key point, donut: The vote should be private in a voting booth where all voters can stop in & quickly vote. A two- hour meeting in a gym does not work for most of the voters. Since the government hasn't initiated any change to the process, it would seem that there needs to be a petition to the Town Council to make the change.
Scott Clark May 22, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Totally agree. Logistically, there's going to be a cost incurred; however, the up front investment would pay for itself in the long run. At the same time, it's hard to get people to show up as often as these issues come up. We have, what, eight different committees driving multiple agendas and making micro-decisions throughout the month? To follow all of it requires more of a fulltime job than even the volunteers of these boards put in :) Getting 30 people to vote on this particular budget item shouldn't be that hard when their vote is confidential. But, and I ask honestly: are there enough types of these vote-required items throughout the year to a) justify the cost and installation of voting booths and voting scanners; and, b) get people to show up at them most of the time? If I had my way, I'd put touchscreen fingerprint-based voting machines in Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. We'd get votes on EVERYTHING at that point :)
Gary Morse May 22, 2012 at 08:00 PM
The budget may be balanced now, but the future is where the problems lie. Consider a list of unknowns: 1) Upping the retirement age in pension reform shifted pension burdens from the state to local property tax payers in the form of higher average longevity and salary payments for teachers. 2) Predictions are that pension reform itself may not withstand a legal challenge. 3) "Distressed City" language in the RI school funding formula is likely to have a negative impact on Barrington's future payments from the state. 4) The town council has recently endorsed a money losing wind farm initiative for the East Bay backed by Barrington property taxes. Portsmouth's experience is outlined in this week's Portsmouth Town Council meeting where the town still does not know if a proper break even point can ever be reached long term. 5) The town is rushing affordable housing and concurrently endorsing tax breaks as low as $480 annual tax bill per apartment. Compared against the median property tax in Barrington, this will have a huge impact on property taxes as we drive towards a 10% affordable housing goal. 6) There is no impact study available from the Planning Board on infrastructure upgrades to handle growth. Many in town cannot absorb these increases. We need to address cost reductions, not be satisfied with no increase.
Joel Hellmann May 22, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Gary-Look at my next blog tomorrow
Manifold Witness May 22, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Scott – it’s actually simpler than you may think at first blush. The process would be changed from the antiquated annual process now known as the “Financial Town Meeting”. If you go online to the “ecode library” (which is very user-friendly & amazingly handy-dandy), you can see the Barrington Charter, code & ordinances. From the Town Charter section 6-4-6 (and see et seq): Section 6-4-6: “Following the preliminary public meeting, the Committee on Appropriations shall prepare a Town Budget which it shall submit in printed report form to the Financial Town Meeting which budget shall contain recommendations for expenditures and the amount of tax which will be necessary to levy to pay such expenses as provided in Section 7-l-2”. http://www.ecode360.com/BA1328
Scott Clark May 23, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Oh, I LIKE that site. Thanks Manifold! My question was along the lines of all the decisions that go into what is finally proposed. It seems like they present it as a "take it or leave it" when it comes up for the vote (as it does tomorrow). How much leeway is there by that point?
Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 11:08 AM
That site is amazing, right? And it has other municipalities as well. There's not a lot of leeway on the vote, Scott. The budget has to get voted upon as do any proposals that have been timely filed with the Town Clerk, as well as any other questions that get put to a vote - such as proposed bond issues. Maybe Julia Califano, Barrington Town Moderator, could do a letter to the Patch editor outlining the process and the order of the votes so folks know what to expect. It's great to see your interest in this, Scott!
Local Mom May 23, 2012 at 12:44 PM
In past there have been multiple versions of the budget presented at one Town Financial Meeting for review and vote - rare and I can't remember exact years, but it has happened. One year, there were 3 choices for budget and well advised ahead in BT, Backpack Express (original paper version), etc. Scenarios that if X was kept in budget, impact would be Y. If A was deleted from budget, impact would be B. But by the time the FTM is held, it's really too late to change the tide - all vetting has to happen before then. Might be interesting to look back at some of the last 15-20 yrs of FTM agendas and results. Back to voting itself, if you gave option for private voting, even between limited hours of say 3-8p (eg, after schools closed), you'd have the retirees out in droves - they're hugely concerned about rising costs vs. their fixed incomes, but dont like to drive at night, and don't want to be seen as anti-growth or progress. For those of you who remember Mr. Dick who used to rail every year at the FTM, he was the lone voice of fiscally conservative at these meetings. His children went thru the system and he had no issue with standing up in front of the entire community highlighting the weight of Barr property taxes. (There might be transcripts available somewhere.) He was quite verbose, but since his untimely demise, there has not been anyone with cojones like his to speak out like he did at the FTM.
Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 01:29 PM
The "backpack express" & other school resources are used by the PTO (parents of school children & teachers) to get their propaganda to the other parents. There is no organized, similarly funded, counter-effort for the other taxpayers: non-teachers, those with no school children – non-unionized, non-"organized", folks who may not understand how the system works because the government does not educate the public about this. A high percentage of Barrington teachers live in Barrington. The teachers go to the FTM and vote for the increases. Union rah-rah wins the vote, year after year, of course. The process is not fair. It needs to be changed. Who will organize a petition for change?

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