On Monday, May 6, the taxpayers of Charlestown will have an opportunity to speak about the tentative budget brought forward by the Budget Commission. We should all be thankful that this commission, along with the town hall staff, has kept the town’s budget in line with expenses, which should leave our tax rate unchanged.
So, will there be any surprises in this budget? Yes, one very positive surprise. The Budget Commission has found an additional $ 3,095,000 that is waiting for a home. This money can and should go anywhere the taxpayers will support.
At the March Town Council meeting many residents spoke about this surplus, what they would like to see and how the process should be handled. The majority of participants suggested that a townwide survey be taken so the taxpayers could decide how to best utilize these funds. Did the council listen? Well, not exactly. The Charlestown Citizen Alliance (CCA) majority agreed to move forward with a community/recreation/senior center at Ninigret Park. They pushed aside any thoughts of providing an entertainment venue component to that facility and gave no thought of doing anything on the north side of Route 1. The decision on whether to put the center on as a Warrant Item, for voter approval, has yet to be decided.
The idea that Charlestown needs this type of facility is unfounded. We have a senior/community center in Ninigret Park and there are community rooms at Kettle Pond and the Charlestown Police Station, as well as at Cross’ Mills Public Library. A recreation center is a good idea but will be cost-prohibitive. At some point, any new facility will require additional employee staffing, benefits and pensions as well as continued maintenance.
The 2004 Ninigret Park Survey that gave us the approved Master Plan for Ninigret Park clearly stated that the majority of survey participants did not want permanent and/or municipal buildings in the park; leaving it mostly undeveloped was their request. Those same participants listed their top 3 choices as: 1. walking/jogging trail; 2. ice skating; and 3. band shell.
So where does this leave us? Let me be clear in stating that the Ninigret Park Survey was done 15 years ago and should probably be revisited. The CCA members of the Town Council should not be allowed to force their will on the taxpayers. Without voter approval, we lose our democracy. After all, it’s our town, our money and our park.
As Council Vice President Deb Carney stated, “The process needs to be open and transparent, allowing our citizens to decide what they want.”
This windfall should not be used entirely for Ninigret Park; we could use these funds for a number of different things. We could pay down debt, boost our pension fund, provide lighting for the Chariho Cowboys football field behind the Town Hall, put fencing around the basketball courts in Ninigret Park, give additional funding to our animal shelter, widen our walking trails to make them safer, and if all else fails, how about giving the $ 3,095,000 back to the taxpayers?
Please come out May 6 and speak about this unique opportunity.