Editorial: Highs and lows of the week around the region

Editorial: Highs and lows of the week around the region


(Low) There were expressions of sadness from the governor on down after Benny’s announced Friday that it was closing its 31 remaining stores by the end of the year. “When I was a little girl, a trip to Benny’s with my mother was always an exciting event that usually ended with a new toy!” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. The company is run by three grandchildren of the founder, and over the years, it became part of Rhode Island’s unique throwback culture. “One thing we hear all the time is, my first bike came from Benny’s,” Judy Rosenstein, one of the grandchildren, told the Rhode Island Monthly earlier this year. Many people, too, got their first job at the retail chain. We’re sad to see it winding down, but a combination of family dynamics and competition finally spelled the end of a business that had long been known as a retail relic. We, the customers, are partly responsible, too. Nobody forced us to turn elsewhere for many of the products that are Benny’s stock in trade.

(Low) Prices for coastal real estate have been rebounding in recent years, but the effects of the last pre-recession bubble are still creating rip currents. Consider the case of 5 Matanuck Ave. in Watch Hill. A Superior Court judge ruled that it was over-assessed by nearly $960,000 in the years 2009-11. Westerly was ordered to refund part of the owners’ tax payments and fork over a hefty interest penalty. What is this property really worth? Perhaps by now the owners could recover their investment of $7.1 million. Zillow values it at $7 million, the Realtors’ website says $6.1 million, and the current town assessment is nearly $5.4 million. As we reported last week, assessors are complaining that some owners are doing an end run around the local appeals process, but it’s certainly within their rights. So who ends up paying? There’s an interesting analogy in the Chicago Lawyer Magazine: Imagine a long balloon, running down a street, that is filled with air — the air being the volume of taxes needed to support the local budget. When some people successfully squeeze that balloon to lessen the taxes on their own homes, “the total amount of taxes being collected doesn’t decrease. It just pops up in places where people aren’t squeezing.”

(High) We’re under way in a new school year and by most reports it was smooth opening across the region — except in North Stonington where hazardous air-quality measurements in three rooms at the elementary school forced the postponement of the first day from Aug. 30 to Tuesday. Westerly students returned without incident and for the first time without Bradford School in the mix. Stonington elementary students went back alongside construction equipment at West Vine and Deans Mill schools as they undergo expansion and renovation projects. And in Chariho, site work has begun on the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy. And eventful start to the school year.

(High) A salute is in order for the Westerly Veterans Memorial Committee, which has worked diligently in recent years to make improvements to the memorial outside Wilcox Park at the corner of Grove Avenue and Granite Street. The memorial is now lit at night and last week 17 permanent flag poles were installed — which will be dedicated today at 11 a.m. — along with one flag from each of the five military branches. Every town has such a memorial, but Westerly’s is certain to be a notch above many others.

(High) It was good to hear of the establishment of the Piver Cup soccer tournament for local high school players. The two weekend tournament, which started this past Saturday, includes Westerly, Stonington, Chariho and Fitch boys and girls teams. The tournament honors the life of Josh Piver, a former standout Stonington High goalkeeper who died in the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was 23. The tourney also will serve as a fund raiser for the Josh Piver Scholarship Foundation. Hats off to those who organized the event.

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