Fred Massie: Warren needs real unity now
I love my home in Warren, and I appreciate the many fine qualities and opportunities our town offers — from the agricultural fields on Touisset Point, to the thriving commercial scene in the historic downtown, and from the joys of being out on Mount Hope Bay and the Kickemuit River, to the successful new and established businesses and production facilities and the host of great restaurants located throughout the town. That’s why I have freely given many hours of my time to help protect what Warren currently offers and help set the stage for Warren’s future growth.
So it was with sadness I learned about the actions taken at the Monday, May 20 Warren Financial Town Meeting, where a number of my fellow residents marched in under the banner of “Warrenites Unite.” Constituting a crowd of loud, we’re-angry-as-hell-and-we’re-not–going-to-take-it anymore residents, stirred up and spurred on by local agent provocateurs, these folks voted to gut vital positions in our town’s governance and regulatory staffing.
Under the false impression that the modest salaries for the town’s planner, building official, clerk and tax assessor are unnecessary to the town’s present and future, these misguided individuals determined that reducing the pay of the aforementioned staffers will not only help Warren out of its current tax crunch, but also reduce the impending tax increase. While these stalwarts weren’t able to take down the tax assessor, they were able to severely handicap the positions and salaries of the town planner and building official.
For all their bluster about needing to “take matters into their own hands” to reduce taxes, the same people then added back in to the budget nearly the salary equivalent they proposed to cut. The result? A laughable two cent reduction in the anticipated tax burden per resident from $20.09 per $1,000 in valuation to $20.07, while crippling two positions directly related to the economic and environmental health and growth in our community. Frankly, the attack on these three positions, and most particularly on that of town planner, stinks of a personal vendetta orchestrated into a witch hunt. This is appalling.
The fact is, Warren’s current tax problems are directly linked to our school funding issue. Fortunately, our town, supported by the efforts of our town treasurer and town solicitor, is fighting in court to ease this school-related burden, and there is good reason to believe their effort will be successful.
Unfortunately, the herd mentality of many of the attendees at the Financial Town Meeting allowed no time to consider pesky things like facts. Instead, they were bound and determined to run blindly with scissors — and, at least some of us know the perils of that folly from childhood — at specific town staff positions. As a result, they badly injured the town and its future.
As a volunteer member and now chairman of the Warren Planning Board, I have worked hard to eliminate the “us vs. them” mentality the board reflected when I was first appointed. Over time, through the volunteer planning board members’ spirit of cooperation, dedication, thoughtful deliberations, and respect for differing opinions, those bad old days, at least on the Planning Board, are now a passing memory. More importantly, we have improved the board’s functions, and we are currently working to help streamline and sensitize the regulatory processes that previously earned the town a reputation as bad for business. We are also working on the town’s new Comprehensive Plan, aimed at enhancing the residents’ quality of life and our town’s business climate while protecting the town’s best cultural and environmental assets.
Truly, a good deal of the board’s progress to date is also the result of the outstanding professional assistance provided by Warren Town Planner Caroline Wells, without whose work, we would be mired in time-consuming and expensive delays. Clearly, the individual at the meeting who slammed the town planner for delaying the current, proposed, Tourister Mill development process, receiving loud applause from other uninformed folks, was speaking out of ignorance, as that process, in particular, is significantly aided and moved forward by the civil and cooperative discussions and actions of the developer, the planning board and the town planner. There are few things that will delay the proposed Tourister development more than pulling the rug from under the planner during the approvals process and hamstringing the building inspector during the permitting and construction process.
On a separate but equally relevant note, the town planner has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside grant money into town for much-needed infrastructure projects. The return on the town’s investment in the planner’s modest salary is tremendous. Driving the current planner out of town and leaving us without the wherewithal to attract another candidate is irresponsible.
Sadly, there are some in town who refuse to follow the lead of the planning board. These people apparently thrive on contention, derogatorily using terms like “relative newcomers” to further factionalize an already disturbingly factionalized town. Fostering an environment of distrust can only end badly for the town, its residents, and its business climate.
That said, I accept my own responsibility for the Monday Town Meeting putsch, as I was not in attendance at the meeting. My ignorance of what transpired is no excuse, but I know there are many other concerned Warren residents who also allowed this to slip under their radar screens. Given the severe consequences should this vote stand, it is incumbent upon the town council to call for another Financial Town Meeting where the votes of more, and hopefully better informed, residents may be counted.
Frederick D. Massie
Mr. Massie is chairman of the Warren Planning Board, though his comments reflect his opinions and not necessarily those of all the planning board members.