Warren cuts summer beach programs, makes broad cuts amid budget crisis

Warren town councilors (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs go over the numbers at a recent Joint Finance Committee meeting. Warren town councilors (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs go over the numbers at a recent Joint Finance Committee meeting.

Warren town councilors (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs go over the numbers at a recent Joint Finance Committee meeting.

Warren town councilors (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs go over the numbers at a recent Joint Finance Committee meeting.

Faced with escalating school costs they say were forced on them by Warren’s wealthier neighbors to the south, Warren Town Council members cut $1 million out of the 2014-15 town budget Tuesday night, slashing programs, positions and traditions that they said could change Warren forever. And there’s more pain to come, they warned.

With education costs approximately $1.5 million higher than they were last year, the council decimated Warren’s Recreation Department, eliminating staffing, Burr’s Hill concerts and summer programs at the Warren Town Beach. They ordered the transfer station closed on the weekends, the purchase of an ambulance and three police cars cancelled, and eliminated the repair budget at the animal shelter.

The cuts continue: all non-union employees will earn the same as last year despite planned pay raises. Overtime was cut across the board. The fire and reduce department’s $105,000 rescue stipend was cut and several administrative assistants, and Warren’s economic development point man Moe Clare, lost their jobs. In a gesture that will do little to help the bottom line but marked the gravity of the situation, councilors also voted to do away with their small stipends, which total $6,000 per year.

And in the end, they said Warren is still looking at a tax increase well over what state law allows. The town will have to petition the state for approval to increase taxes by about 6.9 percent. As it stands right now, Warren’s tax rate this coming year will be $20.09, up from the current $18.67.

Through it all, councilors expressed sorrow, regret and not a little anger at Warren’s financial hole.

“We’re heartbroken, really,” councilor Scott Lial said.

“This is an absolute disgrace,” added David Frerichs. “Some of these cuts make me sick.”

Much of the councilors’ venom was directed at the school committee and the Joint Finance Committee, the nine-member board that determines how much each town pays every year to the Bristol Warren Regional School District.

This year, the JFC ordered Warren to pay $13.18 million, up about $1.5 million from last year. The vote was split 5-4, with Warren’s three members and one of Bristol’s six members voting against.

At the same time, the JFC did not act on a request by Warren JFC members to revisit the state formula that determines how much state aid each town in the district gets every year. Warren’s three members contended that given Warren’s economic disadvantages to Bristol — it has a smaller tax base and a larger number of residents at or below the poverty level — Warren should be getting a larger percentage of state aid than it has been receiving; the formula by which it’s been divided has been applied inappropriately, they said.

The dismissal of that interpretation led Warren to file a lawsuit two weeks ago. In conjunction with the courts the state department of education will soon review whether Warren is getting too little state aid, and thus supplementing the education costs that Warren officials say should be borne more by Bristol taxpayers.

Councilors believe they’ll come out victorious, but chastised their counterparts in Bristol for belittling them, dismissing Warren’s work and in some cases accusing them of not having their financial house in order.

“We’re dealing with a huge dollar amount that is essentially forced on us by individuals that don’t live in the Town of Warren,” councilor Chris Stanley said, referring to the JFC. “No matter what we do we’re only three votes. And we’re constantly being outvoted. There’s a fundamental flaw in the legislation.”

“If anybody argues that this is not a bare bones budget, they can sit in my seat in November,” councilor Joseph DePasquale said. “All the good work that we’ve tried to do in years past, investing in our future, for what? You see that this is not in our hands.”

Deregionalization?

Several audience members asked whether Warren has ever considered deregionalizing and breaking away from Bristol. Mr. Stanley said the subject has indeed come up.

“They’re forcing us to go in that direction,” he said, saying he wouldn’t be surprised to see a committee start exploring the subject later this year.

Still, Mr. Lial said it won’t be easy, as much of the Warren School District’s infrastructure is gone and would need to be rebuilt.

“It’s a massive endeavor,” he said.

In the meantime, Warren faces a new day, he said. Though the loss of the summer program and other services will be difficult, councilors said Warren will get through it.

“The sense of volunteerism and pride (in Warren) will overcome the challenge that we’re about to face as a group, as a collective group of Warrenites,” Mr. Lial said.

“I am sure that in some instances we will rally and volunteer our time to make sure that there is something there for our children this summer,” Mr. DePasquale said. “I know I will.”

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3 Comments

  1. John Tats said:

    This article fails to address a very important point that the budget still needs to be brought forward to the auditor general for approval, if the State decides that the increased percentage has to be lowered that means more cuts!

    I can’t fathom the fact that there is no outrage from any Town employee’s towards the school administration, because you either don’t realize that some of you may be very close to losing your jobs or your just not understanding the issue at hand. If your an employee of Warren at either the Town yard, Town Hall or public safety “Wake UP” now is the time to speak up. I can’t imagine you all are willing to sacrifice your jobs so some school administrator can continue to make over six figures. There is no contract in place that saves you all from a financial failure of the Town.

    The potential is in place for this to happen, other possibilities is that a receiver is appointed to oversee the issue. When something like that falls into play most contracts get thrown out the window and you end up like Central Falls.

    There are far more serious issues than the recreation board but the loss of this should be a signal. Another issue is your Town is in need of a Rescue truck…the call volume to transport citizens of Warren has increased dramatically. The average of 2600 calls per year in Warren most of them being EMS related , that averages out to about 7 calls a day. Over 50% of people in Warren are over 60 years of age…this is entirely unfair to the residents of Warren to not be able to purchase the Rescue because the “School Budget” dictates our very lives, this is totally wrong on every level. It may not seem important to some folk unless your the person that needs the 3rd truck & is doesn’t exist!

    Warren residents need to get out of the dream world you are all living in and support the councils efforts to save our Town, before you all find yourselves living in the School hallways!

    The lack of outrage from Warren residents lends to the argument that maybe some of you don’t care or just don’t understand the magnitude of the problem.
    There is gonna be an awful lot of dumbfounded looks on peoples faces in the next couple of months if you all don’t wake up and jump into this battle over the budgets. My taxes are high enough & surely everyone else’s is also, don’t let the school system dictate our lively hood.

    • StillBroke said:

      John… I think a lot of people ARE outraged they just feel there’s nothing they can do about it. Even with one Bristol member voting with Warren, we still lost. Then, the courts handed down an anti-Warren decision.
      If anyone stands up against the rising school budget, they are told it is “for the children” and made to feel like a low life and otherwise berated.
      Between the out of control spending at the BCWA and now the school distruct (not a spelling error) we are screwed.

    • Ted HayesTed Hayes said:

      John,

      Thanks for the comments. The article mentions that the budget needs to be brought before the state for approval. True, not specifically mentioned, but I thought implied, was that if the state does not approve it, that money will have to come from somewhere. Thank you.

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