Warren voters passed a $22 million-plus budget and approved the sale of two town properties Monday night in a Financial Town Meeting that saw enough voters — barely — to reach a quorum.
When Warren Fire Chief Al Galinelli walked down the Kickemuit Middle School auditorium aisle at roughly 7:20 p.m. and called out, “We have a quorum,” the 128 voters who had showed up starting at 7 p.m. let out a collective cheer. The turnout was three more than was needed to constitute a quorum, and gave those on hand the right to vote on the year’s financial issues.
Chief among them to most in the audience was the sale of two properties, the old Liberty Street School and the former VFW hall on Metacom Avenue. Town officials sought to sell the old school for $100,000 to 2nd Story Theatre, and the old hall to the owner of the Cutler Mill for $52,561. Though the eventual votes were nearly unanimous, one did not come without some small measure of dissent.
Schoolhouse Road resident John Saviano questioned the town’s wisdom in selling the 1847 school building to a private theater group for a price, he said, that was low and wouldn’t offer repeated returns. The town would do much better, he argued, to sell to the likes of Brito Enterprises in Bristol, which several years ago offered the town $250,000 for the building and had a plan to put in upwards of 20 residential units in the school and a new building that would have been built next to it.
“The value of property is going up rapidly,” he said. “This property, if you sell it tonight, this property will probably be tax exempt. I don’t know that, but it will be at a very low value.”
The Brito plan, he said, would have brought $60,000 in taxes in each year.
“My question is, would you, because the values of properties are going up, consider going out to bid again and get someone in like the Brito family or someone else?”
Apparently not, as other taxpayers said the sale makes fine sense. Two followed Mr. Saviano and argued that the building would go to a locally owned theater company that brings a lot of business to Warren.
“This building has been on the market for a number of years, and 2nd Story is a major asset here in town,” said Cutler Street resident Andy Asselin. “If we hold off on it, it’s going to cost us $20,000 a year just to maintain it. My suggestion is to sell it now.”
His short speech received a hearty round of applause from the audience, as did a plea by King Street resident Thomas Padwa, who also favored selling.
The eventual vote appeared unanimous, or close to it, as nobody could be heard speaking when the moderator asked who was opposed. Such was the case when the sale of the old VFW hall next to Tinker’s Nest went to a vote. That building will sell to Sigourney LLC, a company formed by Cutler Mills owner and AVTECH founder Michael Sigourney.
Also on the agenda was the approval of the town’s total operating budget, listed in documents as $22.07 million. That budget includes a tax rate of $18.64 per $1,000.
The quorum is the second straight quorum at a Warren Financial Town Meeting. More than 400 voters showed up at a special town meeting held last August to vote on the sale of the old Main Street School to the Hope and Main kitchen incubator outfit. That sale passed overwhelmingly.