According to the results of Charlestown’s October 2021 townwide survey, most taxpayers are happy with how their town is managed and see good value in the services they are provided.
Charlestown taxpayers are served by a dedicated town staff. For example, during the pandemic, ours was the only town in the state to provide uninterrupted services to our residents, and to those who needed assistance, even during the worst of COVID-19.
The Town Council has been supported in making policy decisions by excellent staff work and by consulting outside experts. Currently Charlestown has one of the lowest tax rates in the state, enjoys the highest bond rating possible for a town its size, and maintains a healthy reserve against natural disasters and other emergencies that might befall our community in the future.
Yet, in a year-end letter in The Westerly Sun, Council President Deb Carney inaccurately stated that Charlestown’s surplus is an issue (“The Year in Review: Charlestown looks to build on success, learn from missteps,” Dec. 28) and said there should be $3 million more in the town’s 2022 surplus.
Contrary to Ms. Carney’s statement, the 2022 unassigned surplus is exactly as expected, that is, $5.7 million, or 19% of the budget. The money Ms. Carney is looking for is not reflected in the 2022 unassigned surplus for one reason, and one reason only. As authorized by the voters in 2020, the town made a very large payment to Charlestown’s Police Pension Fund to reduce the town’s liability and the rest was given back to the taxpayers by reducing the tax rate. Obviously one does not get to use money for specific purposes and still have the money in the bank.
In the past, it has been asserted that the $3 million that Ms. Carney still thinks should be in the town’s surplus was missing, or even that it had been embezzled. However, the auditors who reviewed the town’s 2020 financial statements found no consequential issues.
In response to an inquiry directed to the Rhode Island Auditor General in March of 2022 regarding the town’s 2020 audit, the auditor general said that he had reviewed reports and other available information and that he had discussed matters with the town and the audit firm. He stated that “the planned use of fund balance at June 30, 2020, to support the town’s fiscal 2021 budget should likely have been presented as Committed fund balance rather than unassigned.”
No money has gone missing; the auditor general simply suggested that the money be relabeled as “Committed.”
It appears that Ms. Carney’s recent statement is inaccurate and lacks supporting evidence, as do other assertions she has made about our town’s management. Such claims just serve to stir the political pot and are not in Charlestown’s best interest.
Most Charlestown’s residents correctly understand that their town is well-managed and have every reason to be happy about the state of its fiscal health.
Bonnie Van Slyke