WOOD RIVER JCT. — Voters approved the fiscal 2020 Chariho budget Tuesday in an all -day referendum. A total of 642 residents cast their ballots, with Charlestown voting 192 to 12 to approve, Richmond voting 117 to 45, and Hopkinton voters rejecting the budget by a margin of 154 to 122.
Voter turnout was low: 3 percent in Charlestown, 2.5 percent in Richmond and 4 percent in Hopkinton.
The $52.4 million budget is an increase of 0.01 percent. Despite being nearly level-funded, the spending plan is still causing fiscal pain to two of the three Chariho towns, where enrollments increased.
Hopkinton’s contribution will rise by 3.2 percent, the result of an increase of 21 students, and Richmond will pay 1.75 percent more. Charlestown, with 61 fewer children enrolled, will see a decrease in its contribution.
With Hopkinton residents facing a $0.80 increase in their property tax rate, members of the Town Council had been pressuring the committee to make further budget cuts.
Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, who has been one of the budget’s most outspoken critics, said he was pleased that residents in his town had voted against the budget but disappointed that Richmond voters had supported it.
“I could not personally support a budget that was going to substantially increase property taxes for our town,” he said. “I am thankful our residents turned the budget down based on what was at stake, a $0.80 tax increase per $1,000 of assessed value. Next time around, we need help from the neighboring town of Richmond.”
Superintendent Barry Ricci’s original proposal called for spending $53.4 million. During budget workshops that began in January, the School Committee managed to reduce the budget by more than $840,000.
There was a further reduction of $18,210 after Richmond agreed to a request to allocate 340 tons of its solid waste cap to the school district, thereby allowing Chariho to take advantage of the municipal tipping rate.
At the March 12 School Committee meeting, during which the committee adopted the budget, members passed a motion to reduce the budgeted health care increase by 1 percent, cutting an additional $55,565 from the budget and reducing the overall increase to 0.01 percent.
The cuts were not enough to appease officials in Hopkinton and Richmond.
Richmond Town Council President Gary Wright said he was frustrated by the budget, and also by the acrimony between the Chariho towns.
“It was a very, very low voter turnout,” he said. “Everybody is demoralized and there’s no hope anything is going to change, so why go out to the poll?”
Wright said the only way to address the Chariho issues was for the three towns to work together.
“Mr. Ricci is looking out for his domain and the state is behind him,” he said. “We need to get all three towns and the School Committee to sit down together. We’ve got to stop stabbing each other in the back … The three towns and the School Committee can get this to happen. If we don’t do this, it’ll never change.”
Charlestown council President Virginia Lee said she was pleased with the vote.
“It is heartening that our citizens value and are willing to invest in quality education of this and future generations in the Chariho Regional School District," she said. "There is not a better investment in the future of our communities."
Council Vice President Deborah Carney said it was evident from the vote that Charlestown residents are satisfied with the budget.
“Those that voted in Charlestown clearly thought the budget was acceptable and showed their support by voting in favor,” she said.