What’s next if Warren wins school court suit?

Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie stands during a vote to reduce the Warren Tax Assessor's salary by 50 percent, while fellow council members keep their seats. Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie stands during a vote to reduce the Warren Tax Assessor's salary by 50 percent, while fellow council members keep their seats.
Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie stands during a vote to reduce the Warren Tax Assessor's salary by 50 percent, while fellow council members keep their seats.

Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie stands during a vote to reduce the Warren Tax Assessor’s salary by 50 percent, while fellow council members keep their seats.

The voters have spoken, but one of the biggest questions surrounding Warren’s budget dilemma remains: What happens if Warren wins its school funding court case?

The town is still waiting on word from Rhode Island Superior Court whether a formula that determines how much each town in the regional school district pays has been properly applied over the past four years. Warren officials believe it has not, and if Judge Luis Matos agrees the difference could be as much as $2 million per year.

While there is still uncertainty how Warren would be made whole if the town prevails, the Town Charter has a provision that would allow Warren to hold another Financial Town Meeting to help work that money back into the budget.

The charter states that the town council can convene a Special Financial Town Meeting at any time if members receive “new budgetary information” that could have bearing on the overall budget. The only thing required in such a case is a 2/3 vote of the Warren Town Council. Four out of five councilors would have to vote to convene, but those polled this week said they wouldn’t vote against convening the meeting.

“I think you would see all five councilors” voting to hold the meeting, council president Chris Stanley predicted.

Determining what to do with the money is another story. At Monday’s Financial Town Meeting, residents voted to cut the salary of the town planner and building official by 50 percent, and the town clerk by a lesser amount, to restore funding previously cut from the recreation department budget and the East Bay Community Action Program. With the exception of Mr. Stanley, councilors polled this week said they would vote to reinstate full funding to the cut positions while using funds also to reduce the tax rate to a more manageable number.

Would she like to see those positions addressed? “Yes,” noted Cathie Tattrie.

“We have one of the biggest projects in Warren’s position coming down the pike, and we need them,” David Frerichs added. As for the tax increase, “I would like to lower it. We have never exceeded the cap. I would use (the money) to bring it down, no more than 2, 2 and a half percent.”

“If we are going to have a  positive relationship with the business community as well as the local taxpayer, these positions are vital to our town functioning productively,” added Joseph Depasquale. “With the American Tourister project about to start, not having these positions staffed full time would not be fiscally prudent.  I am also in favor of reducing our tax rate and bringing in new business to strengthen it.”

Mr. Stanley agreed with others that a main goal is to reduce the tax burden. However, he said he would be reluctant to use any recovered funds to make the cut positions whole. Instead, he said he would favor putting the money in Warren’s General Fund and using it to offset the tax increase first, and to restart stalled infrastructure improvements second.

“I don’t know that we’re in the position where we’d want to go against their will,” Mr. Stanley said. “People want to see some type of improvement with their dollars. Right now they’re not seeing those improvements. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to restore anything that they cut.”

While a positive vote by the Superior Court could precipitate another Financial Town Meeting, it is within the realm of possibility that yet another meeting could be held before the end of the year. The town charter also allows a Special Financial Town Meeting to be held six months after the budget kicks in (on July 1) if five percent of voters in Warren sign a petition calling for it.

Note: Read Councilor Scott Lial’s response here.

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8 Comments

  1. Anna Palmieri said:

    I think that it was very unfair of the towns people to cut these jobs just so they could reinstate the rec program. That is the stupidist thing i have ever heard of. End the free be’s. A persons job is more important then a summer program whic is a glorified baby sitting program.

    • Benjamin DeCastro said:

      Anna:

      We didn’t cut their job, just the status of Full Time To Part Time.

      Warren is at a dangerous point right now. We have the 2nd highest rate of people leaving our town in the state!

      You don’t need a full time person for each and every job, especially in a town our size.

      Our spending is WAY out of control! Time to right the ship!

      More cuts need to happen!!

    • Ted HayesTed Hayes said:

      Transplant,

      Thanks for participating. In one way your question has already been answered. The Town of Warren will continue paying its share based on the formula as applied, which is what happened this year.

      • DownTown said:

        Ted, the formula ISN’T being applied. RIDE takes the formula gets the numbers for Bristol & Warren then averages them out rather than apply numbers for both towns separately as is done in 37 other communities in RI including the Chariho regional system.

        Averaging the numbers out was part of the original BW regionalization agreement.

        If Warren loses they will leave the regional system and then the formula will be applied to Warren as Warren and Bristol as Bristol.

        Guess who wins under that circumstance money wise?

  2. DownTown said:

    “Bristol will be responsible for an additional $800,000 — $600,000 of that is due to a population shift based on enrollment as of Oct. 1, 2012; $200,000 is due to the loss of state funding.”

    From a Phoenix article re the last school budget here.

  3. DownTown said:

    From the State Auditor General’s Office:

    “The total student enrollment for the Regional School District at October 1, 2013 actually decreased by 17 students compared to the prior year; however the Town of Warren’s enrollment increased by 112 students.”

    http://www.eastbayri.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Read-what-the-state-Auditor-General-has-to-say-about-Warrens-tax-cap-emergency.pdf

    It follows mathematically that Bristol’s enrollment has dropped by 129 students.

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