I urge voters to support the Charlestown budget for FY21 because it:
1. Assures steady, responsible financial management of Charlestown.
It continues good government of the town while keeping operating expenses to a minimum increase of 2% over last year.
2. Reduces the property tax rate.
The transfer of $1.2 million from the unassigned fund allows Charlestown to reduce our tax rate 11% lower than last year to $8.23 for every $1,000 of assessed value. This compares to $20.87 in Hopkinton, $21.88 in Richmond, $14.45 in South Kingstown and $11.21 in Westerly. Because our town is such a great place to live, people are investing in Charlestown, by upgrading or buying homes and businesses, so property values are going up according to the state mandated revaluation. If your property value increased more than the 11% drop in the tax rate, you will pay more taxes. But you will pay half the taxes you would pay for the same value of house in Hopkinton or Richmond. This budget keeps Charlestown’s property tax rate among the lowest in the state.
3. Educates our children by paying Charlestown’s portion of the Chariho Regional School District based on the School Committee’s adopted budget for FY21.
4. Upgrades the Charlestown Animal Shelter with a long sought-after addition.
5. Reduces the gap in the police pension funding.
Charlestown police are our first responders. Yet the funded status of the police pension is only 67.6 % while the funded status of the general employees is 96%. This budget would transfer $1million from the unassigned fund to increase the funded status of our police pension plan to 74%. These funds would be deposited into the state pension trust fund account dedicated to Charlestown police. By law, these funds cannot be used for any other purpose.
6. Funds a legal reserve to protect the town in court.
It is critical to have a reserve of at least $500,000 to defend the town in big legal battles.
In 2015, our town needed $450,000 of this legal reserve for a settlement. If luck had not been with us, we would have needed it again in 2017 to defend our town against the railroad bypass and then against Invenergy taking our drinking water. Charlestown has several potential lawsuits currently pending.
7. Helps support vital organizations such as the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue, the Cross Mills Library, The Charlestown Historical Society, Southern RI Volunteers Meals on Wheels, South County Home Health Visiting Nurses, RICAN Food Bank and other nonprofits who provide essential services for our residents.
8. Pays off financial obligations with transfers from the surplus instead of raising taxes and instead of deferring our debt to an uncertain future. Examples include paying an open space bond that has come due, paying leased equipment fees now to eliminate this expense in the future.
9. Keeps an emergency unassigned fund balance of $7.4 million. This is 26.5% of the total budget, close to the 25% recommended by our auditor.
10. Updates equipment and invests in the quality of life in Charlestown. Examples include maintaining recreational equipment in Ninigret Park, a new truck and snow plow, a pond and shore fund necessary to leverage millions of federal and state dollars to dredge breachways to stop shoaling or deteriorating water quality in the salt ponds and nourish beaches, research into new septic system design that will save homeowners thousands of dollars in reduced installation costs.
Carefully considered by town departments and rigorously examined by the budget commission in public meetings to make sure taxpayers get the best value for our money while keeping our taxes low, it is a good budget and deserves taxpayer support.
Vote ‘YES” for the FY 21 Charlestown budget by June 1, 2020 for responsible financial management.
The writer is the president of the Charlestown Town Council.