Stanley: Lack of tax base, JFC voice crippling Warren

To the editor:

The suggestion that the Town of Warren must “tighten their belts” is empty rhetoric. Against an ominous backdrop the Town of Warren works to craft a responsible budget each year.  The department head, Town Manager and the council work to develop a balanced operating budget that incorporates a combination of conservative economic growth, incremental increases to the tax rate, and enormous spending cuts and approving an ever shrinking capital budget. These contentious actions ordinarily yield perennial fiscal surpluses. Warren fully embraces the idea of spending no more than the government takes in through a reasonable level of taxation. Nevertheless, these herculean efforts are quickly undone by the Joint Finance Committee who places an unfair burden on the taxpayers of Warren.

The Town Manager proposes our community’s spending priorities for the upcoming year in the Preliminary Budget, based solely on real number generated from the previous year and the Town’s actual needs. To ensure that the budget reflects Warren’s needs and priorities, the Council conducts an in-depth review of all departments their policies, their programs and their expenses. At the end of the budget hearings, held in March, the Council publishes its Preliminary Budget in the newspaper. The Council then holds two additional hearings so that it may also incorporate the public’s priorities as it prepares its final draft for the annual town financial meeting. In adopting the budget for the coming fiscal year, the Council often changes budget priorities and in 2012 it enacted a ten percent across the board cuts. Since then the council has essentially continued the practice of level funding the overall municipal budget so that it can continue to appropriately fund the schools.

The Town of Warren simply does not have the capacity, or tax base, to generate the revenue to meet the JFC’s demand without crushing the taxpayer or eliminating key services. This, coupled with the bitter loss of state aid to the cities and towns, creates a putrid financial cocktail. Keeping this fact in mind Warren cobbled together a responsible municipal budget and simultaneously sought to maintain our statutory obligation to fund the schools. By level funding the school budget we meet the educational needs of the community while also ensuring an acceptable quality of life. Unfortunately, the JFC’s recommended share of $13,182,615 will either cause the tax rate to skyrocket or force us to enact devastating cuts that will further erode our standard of living.

If the town accepts the 10.9 % increase to the tax rate as a result of the JFC then we must obtain the approval of the Division of Municipal Finance and State Auditor General. It is very likely they may decide to reject our request because it appears irresponsible. We could also choose to avoid this step by once again defying the JFC’s vote and instead level fund the school. This will inevitably lead to a court action. The resulting questions that now abound are endless and without any clear answers. Still our communities may have settled the issue if the JFC conceded to abide by the law.  Instead the JFC wantonly refusing to recognize the intent of the legislation placed before them and the political and economic argument rests squarely in the courts. Ultimately, the question will become whether or not we can maintain our community’s historic right to self-determination. Arguably, it is neither healthy nor politically acceptable that our town’s municipal budget be held at the mercy of six individuals from another town.

The additional money that the JFC voted to burden the town of Warren with equates to a massive increase to the tax rate. The Town of Warren must cut that same dollar amount from the 2015 budget in order maintain the tax rate from the previous year. The Town of Warren simply does not have the capacity, or tax base, to generate the revenue to meet the JFC’s demand without crushing the tax payer or eliminating key services. Home owners who reside in Warren simply do not have the income to shell out the money to cover another tax increase.

In the meantime, the court had rendered its decision, and the council took decisive action an action by scuttling the budget. By eliminating the recreation department’s summer program dumping transfer station, eliminating all grants and contributions to various social service agencies and erasing a number of positions the Town of Warren still must request permission to enact a 7.1% tax increase as a result of the BWRSD. The figures are dizzying and the council must find a way to survive in the future. Please keep in mind this is the very scorched earth policy that some of members of the Bristol Town Council suggest we enact. Remarkably, a few anonymous critics urged the town to carry out our second option; to blindly accept a painful tax increase.

The numbers do not lie. They reveal Mr. Herreshoff’s statement that Warren must “tighten their belts” as empty rhetoric. Only one equitable and reasonable solution truly remains. The BWRSD and the JFC shall follow the legislative intent of the newly adopted funding formula or enact new enabling legislation. By abiding by the funding formula we meet both the educational needs of the community and ensure an acceptable quality of life. Unfortunately, the JFC’s recommended share of $13,182,615 has forced us to enact devastating cuts that  erode our standard of living and hurt our children.

Chris Stanley

Market Street

Mr. Stanley is the president of the Warren Town Council.

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20 Comments

  1. Wil DeGelt said:

    Mr. Stanley – Stop crying and throwing blame at Bristol and clean your own house! If the RSD is so onerous then please begin the process of separation – BOTH towns will be better for it!

    • Transplant said:

      It’s a simple question: why should 6 people with a vested interest in keeping their own taxes low get to decide the budget and tax rate for another town?

      • Wil DeGelt said:

        BECAUSE THAT’S THE SYSTEM THAT WAS AGREED TO MANY YEARS AGO AND HAS WORKED FOR MANY YEARS!!
        Now Warren wants to balance its books with Bristol’s money!
        Warren can’t afford the BWRSD so the agreement MUST be severed.
        The costs of deregionization go up every day that we wait – DO IT NOW – IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE YEARS AGO.
        Warren is nothing more than a leech on the Bristol taxpayer and a drag on Bristol’s academic standing.

        • StillBroke said:

          Mr. DeGelt… The system that was agreed to many years ago may have worked for many years. However, in recent years there has been a change in the way the state funds schools. Bristol is taking advantage of their dominance on the JFC by taking money earmarked by the state for Warren students and using it towards Bristol students. As a result of this, Bristol can keep their taxes low and Warren can not.
          Also, my son goes to a prestigious university and my daughter consistently gets high honors. How are my children, who are from Warren, a drag on Bristol’s academic standing?

          • Wil DeGelt said:

            (1) “my son goes to a prestigious university and my daughter consistently gets high honors. How are my children, who are from Warren, a drag on Bristol’s academic standing”…anecdotal; OVERALL Warren has a lower level of academic achievement & more troubled students and student on reduced lunch, etc. That equals a DRAG on Bristol.
            (2) “Bristol is taking advantage of their dominance on the JFC by taking money earmarked by the state for Warren students and using it towards Bristol students”…says who, says you? Warren will also lose this one in the courts.
            Again, if the deal is SO bad for Warren the deregionalize NOW!

  2. StillBroke said:

    Mr DeGelt…
    I was not able to reply to you directly. I guess we can’t go that deep into a thread.
    Anyway, if you believe your own statement “OVERALL Warren has a lower level of academic achievement & more troubled students and student on reduced lunch, etc.” then you understand why the state intends that more state money goes to Warren kids than Bristol kids.
    Instead of just trying to be right, try understanding the other point of view.
    Have a pleasant weekend.

    • Wil DeGelt said:

      Like you Mr. Broke, I can’t AFFORD to “understand the other point of view.” If you want to live a Bristol life, then move to Bristol. If you can’t afford to pay your bills, that’s really not my problem – I have my own bills to pay. The Bristol taxpayer doesn’t exist to supplement Warren’s budget.
      What’s going to happen in a few years when there is NO MORE STATE MONEY????? How will Warren pay its bills then? Will it ask Bristol to pay even MORE?
      As I see it, the only viable solution is to cut Warren loose – let it fend for itself.

      • Transplant said:

        And here I thought people like Mr. DeGelt only lived in East Greenwich and Barrington. Clearly I was wrong.

        Bristol, EG, Barrington… different towns, same elitist blowhards.

        Bristol’s representation of the JFC has been using state and Warren taxpayer money to spend will-nilly for YEARS with no real oversight. Now that Warren is finally represented by someone willing to challenge the status quo, suddenly people like Mr. DeGelt decide that Warren residents are a lower form of life to be banished from the fair shores of their beloved Bristol. It’s disgusting, but entirely transparent. Too bad the school district’s books aren’t as visible!

        • klynch26 said:

          As a member of the Bristol Warren School Committee I feel it is necessary to respond to “Transplant’s” statement regarding our infamous “books.” The Bristol Warren School District lead the state in being the first school district to build our budget using the Uniform Chart of Accounts that all school districts now use. The uniform chart of Accounts breaks down our entire budget from our entire budget down to every pencil and paper clip in the district. Then our budget is scrutinized by the a State Auditor General of the State of a Rhode Island and approved. Every year we provide each Town Council and the Joint Finance Comittee our entire budget broken down to the last pencil. I won’t pretend the a Uniform Chart of Accounts is easy to decider but year after year we invite Both Town Councils and JFC to meet with our Chief Financial Officer to answer any specific questions they may have and how exactly to read the uniform Chart of Accounts. Never once has any official from Warren ever gone to one of those meetings. Our books are open every year, we build our budget the same way every school district in this state builds their budgets and we have nothing to hide. Maybe if the Cities and Towns were also required to use the Uniform Charts of Accounts, this transparency would show it is not us who has something to hide. We cut 8 1/2 full time positions this year alone and that was before the JFC voted that we need to cut an additional $450,000. We are also at the tipping point where further cuts will mean cutting programs for kids something we have tried desperately not to do since the enacting of the new funding formula and the loss of the regionalization bonus. So “transplant” our books are open, they are public and they are reviewed every year by the state.

          • Transplant said:

            The regionalization bonus: you mean the finite amount of money you spent like it would never end, and now it’s Warren’s problem? 8.5 positions, wow. Warren is cutting quite a bit more than that! Cut some 6-figure administrators and I might think you’re serious.

            Ms. Lynch, the state will get a very good look at your books when they take Warren over and try to figure out where all the money has gone. It leads in but one direction.

          • DownTown said:

            KLynch26, the formula for State aid is averaged out for Warren & Bristol so Warren gets less & Bristol gets more than they would as separate systems. That is an aberration that will, I can guarantee, be corrected.

            Also Bristol Warren schools have been spending extra money that the State sent here because the old funding formula was frozen in the 90′s. BW schools were not intended to get that money but you have embedded those costs now and you will cry wolf every year to maintain funding to the detriment of taxpayers here.

            You know all about that because Gist told you and the rest of the drunken sailor spenders the same thing.

            Bristol last year got hit $600,000 for ‘new students’ and you told Warren there were 88 new students from Warren.

            Were is this huge housing development where a couple of hundred new students are going to the schools?

            How many new students do you believe will show up next year? 100? 200?

  3. Wil DeGelt said:

    Transplant – Sorry, I took so long to reply but I had a very busy weekend. Friday I had to pick up my Lamborghini at the shop; Saturday I had to fly to Paris for lunch with my wife and yesterday I was entertaining some business clients on my yacht.
    Unfortunately, people like you too often decide how to spend MY money.
    Take the case to court where you will lose, then please crawl back under your rock with the rest of the maggots where you belong.

  4. wdfrost said:

    Well, well well, you have gotten rid of all business’s that are not restaurants or antique shops. Killed business with taxes and insane regulations let part time residents run your town through special interests and thuggery i.e KRC etc. Now we have no tax base and no money……really are you surprised? went from paying over 11,000 per year in taxes to 767 for more land and really no drop in services business is the heart of your tax base. I know of six businesses that where “shot down” by the powers that be in Warren. Just a couple LL BEAN & Narragansett Brewery if you do not get the school committees and the JFC under control your going to be the next central falls. My business went to Virginia after being in warren for over 50 years. You hear that whooshing sound that is the town of Warren circling the bowl maybe you should get the tidy bowl man for town manager your already in the toilet

  5. klynch26 said:

    Again, “Transplant” our books are open and signed off on every year by the Auditor General of the State of Rhode Island, so it will make no difference if the State takes over Warren because the State sees our books every year anyway.

  6. DownTown said:

    The Bristol Warren School department received extra funding for one time regionalization costs but the State aid formula ended up being frozen nearly 20 years so the two towns continued to receive a LOT of extra money till just recently.

    Spend, spend spend – it’s okay because the State was sending extra money here for a decade and a half.

    “Regionalization Bonus – Past education aid distributions, including the
    Operations Aid program, added a regional district bonus to the state share ratio to encourage districts to consolidate. Bonuses began at 2% per consolidated grade and gradually phased out to a minimum of 8%.

    When the Operations Aid program ended, the existing distribution was carried over to the current general aid program;therefore, regional bonuses were frozen in the distribution. Because Bristol-Warren’s phase-out was not complete, its bonus was frozen at 10.5% while Chariho, Exeter-West Greenwich, and Foster-Glocester were frozen at the
    minimum 8%. The formula includes a regional bonus in years 1 (2%) and 2 (1%)that phases out to 0% in year 3 and after.”

    I believe year 4 is upon us though it could be year 3.

    Bristol Warren were slated to lose over $9 million a year but local pols were able to get that figure lowered somewhat for busing costs to about $8 million but its not $8 million in total its $8 million a year.

    Year 1 – minus $800,000
    Year 2 – minus $1.6 million
    Year 3 – minus $2.4 million
    Year 4 – minus $3.2 million
    Year 5 – minus $4 million
    Year 6 – minus $4.8 million
    Year 7 – minus $5.6 million
    Year 8 – minus $6.4 million
    Year 9 – minus $7.2 million
    Year 10 – minus $8 million

    This is why suddenly the JFC is finding hundreds of students exist that didn’t exist the year before and billing accordingly. Bristol was billed an extra $600,000 last year for ‘extra’ students. Where is all this building going on that there are that many new students?

    Before this plays out there will be more students than residents. How else is the school system going to get those types of increases?

    If you work outside of the School system but for Bristol or Warren your raises will be put on hold for the next 6+ years so the school system can continue to spend like a drunken sailor.

    http://www.golocalprov.com/news/winners-and-losers-how-schools-will-make-out-under-new-law/

    The School system has been on a drunken spending spree for 15+ years and they have embedded costs which they now think taxpayers are supposed to automatically pick up.

    Nothing I say is anything new here. The School system whined like crazy to Gist and she told them what I am saying.

    Town officials MUST have seen this coming BUT they have waited till it became a huge issue rather than head it off early on by putting the schools in their place.

    Unfortunately the State School Funding formula has not been applied to Bristol Warren which is why Warren is paying more than they should be paying.

    Every other school system in the State is funded taking into account median income, property values and the number of students receiving free meals. In the Bristol Warren system those numbers are averaged out first then funding is applied. So Bristol gets more than they should and Warren gets less.

    That is in direct contradiction to the State School Funding formula’s expressed purpose.

    http://www.ride.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Funding-and-Finance-Wise-Investments/Funding-Sources/State-Education-Aid-Funding-Formula/FAQ-Updated-42011.pdf

    26. Explain if the calculation on ‘district’s revenue-generating capacity’ was done by town or district and if this means one town could be potentially positively or negatively impacted because of the wealth or lack of wealth of the other. The calculation for district revenue-generating capacity was done by city or town. For regional districts, the values for each of the sending communities are averaged, with the exception of the Chariho Regional School District whose state share ratio is calculated by sending community.

  7. klynch26 said:

    Once our budgets are adopted they are public documents. I believe there are copies in each town hall, the library and at the administration building. Yes, the RIDE website has us over $17,000 per pupil but that is only because the school district covers and pays for the cost of our debt service. Any building renovations, additions, bond referendums, etc are added into our per pupil cost because we pay that. In all other single town districts, the debt service is paid for in the towns budget and not added into the school budget. Apples and oranges if your looking strictly at the numbers.

    Also, the enrollment numbers per town are calculated by RIDE and not the district and as far as where the space is coming from, Hugh cole School had a major addition about 6 years ago increasing its size to 5 tracks k-5 instead of 3. The first 4 tracks were filled when Mary V closed and Hugh Cole became a K-5 school. Due to increasing numbers at Hugh Cole, 4 of those extra 6 classrooms are now full of students. We built in a whole extra track to allow for future growth unfortunately now most of those classrooms are full.

    I’m sorry town employee’s lost their raises but our teachers and our Council 94 members took 3, zeros in their last contract while the towns gave over 3 1/2 % to their employees. As far as the district spending like drunk in sailors, look at our budget and prove it. If we were miss spending money, the Auditor for the State would have caught it using the uniform chart of accounts and stopped it.

    Lastly, if the towns want to appropriate the way the money is distributed differently, they need to open the enabling legislation, agree on a different method of allocating money for the schools and put it before the voters for approval. This issue is between the two towns and not the school district. We are following the enabling legislation as it was written when we regionalized, if the towns want to change that, it’s their job open the legislation and make the changes.

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