May 31, 2014 12:12AM
By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND
Sun Staff Writer
CHARLESTOWN — Voters will have their say on the town’s $26.4 million budget for 2014-15 at a referendum on Monday. The spending plan is slightly lower than the current budget, but it also contains some tax increases.
The property tax levy would be $9.87 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which the town calculates as an increase of 1.88 percent owing to revaluations; the previous rate was $9.46. The motor vehicle excise tax is also expected to rise, by an estimated 6.2 percent.
The revaluation began in December 2013 and is nearly complete. It shows a $53.1 million decline in property values. The increase in the tax rate is necessary to cover the reduction in the value of the town’s grand list.
Town council President Thomas Gentz said he believed the town had done the best it could for its taxpayers.
“I think that the Budget Commission and the town administrator and town treasurer worked very hard to get a good budget,” he said.
“The grand list went down, and so therefore, the actual town budget went down by a quarter of a percent. But because the grand list fell, there’s a slight increase in the tax rate. We still have a very low tax rate.”
Owners of Charlestown’s most expensive homes, those valued at $2 million or more, will see the steepest increases. Owners of homes valued up to $500,000, might see their taxes go down, and taxes on homes at the lowest end will increase between 1 and 2 percent. The tax on an average house, valued at $350,000, will probably increase slightly.
The town’s share of the Chariho budget dropped by $293,940, or 2.01 percent, to $14.3 million for 2015. The town will allocate the money saved in the Chariho budget to offset the costs of several projects. They include the construction of a $300,000 stormwater discharge management system, $40,000 for hurricane shutters to protect the police command center during severe storms, and $5,000 to update the Emergency Management Agency’s communications systems.
The Budget Commission also recommended that the town complete several additional projects. They include a $45,000 quarantine area for the animal control building, $65,000 for new police vehicles, $48,000 to replace the police department’s mobile radios, and $8,651 for new firearms.
The Department of Public Works will get $110,000 for road resurfacing, $71,000 for a new truck and $13,500 for a sander unit. A new van will be purchased for the Parks and Recreation department at a cost of $32,000. Another $15,000 will be spent on repairing restrooms at Ninigret Park. Lighting at Town Hall will be replaced with dark sky-compliant fixtures at a cost of $30,000.
Capital expenditures will double in 2015, from $397,436 to $803,578. The town will also pay off the $2.8 million still owed for the construction of the police station, reducing the town’s usual 20 percent fund balance to between 18 and 19 percent.
Two warrant items, one to buy a strip of beachfront property on Charlestown Beach Road, and a second, which would have asked voters to approve $260,000 to rebuild the Ninigret Park tennis courts, were dropped. Voters didn’t like the idea of the town forfeiting public access to a group of nearby homeowners, and the Town Council decided that the tennis courts were not in urgent need of repair.
Turnout for budget referendums in the town is traditionally low. Last year, just 238 of Charlestown’s 5,834 eligible voters cast their ballots.
Gentz said he interpreted the low voter turnout as a sign that residents are satisfied with the spending plan.
“To me it means that people don’t have a problem with the budget. It usually does pass, and I’m certainly hoping that it will, because it’s a good budget,” he said.”
The poll, located at Town Hall, will be open on Monday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.