In Warren, a financial blood letting



Warren voters wanted change Monday night and they got it, voting at Financial Town Meeting to slash salaries in several key town positions as they sought to save Warren’s summer recreation program while holding Warren officials accountable for a budget crisis that will see the tax rate increase just over 7 percent this year.

Over the course of an angry three-hour meeting at Kickemuit Middle School, a sharply divided group of more than 200 voters sparred back and forth on the budget, which heading into Monday included a 7.9 percent tax levy hike while slashing multiple programs, including the Warren Recreation Department’s summer program at Burr’s Hill.

Prior to the meeting, town councilors had cut $1 million from the municipal budget to make up for a $1.3 million school funding increase this year. But many voters didn’t want to hear pleas Monday that the town’s financial problems lie in large part with the school department and the state’s education aid funding formula, which town officials believe has been improperly applied for years (see side story).

Instead, a steady stream of angry residents called officials to the carpet, in many cases blaming them for the town’s budget problems, saying the town is top heavy with unnecessary positions and going after several of the town's department heads.

Salary cuts

One of the first motions to cut came from voter Gina Catalano, who requested that the town cancel $46,815 in funding for the town hall custodian. When officials explained that the town's collectively bargained employee contracts contain minimum staffing requirements that would likely put the town at risk of costly litigation if broken, Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie suggested cutting elsewhere. Soon after, discussion moved to non-union positions at Warren Town Hall.

Addressing the $818,607 budget for town offices including planner, clerk, manager, building official, treasurer and assessor, Sachem Street resident Ben DeCastro drew a loud round of applause when he approached the microphone and suggested cutting across the board.

“I think we need to reduce this overall by 5 percent. Where’s it going to come out of? Figure it out. Let’s start cutting. Get the scissors out.”

Minutes later, he changed his motion when officials said he had to motion for changes to specific line items, recommending instead that the town cut the salaries of Warren’s town planner and building official in half.

“We don’t have to pay a town planner here,” he said, blaming the planner for the fact that the American Tourister redevelopment is not yet complete. “And the building official. He’s leaving? Part time job. Fifty percent.”

“Why is this position even necessary?” added voter Caleb Murdock. “Do we really need a town planner in a town like this?

Mr. DeCastro’s motion drew a loud round of applause from much of the audience, though others urged caution and restraint. State Street resident and Warren Planning Board member Brandt Heckert said eliminating the planner’s position would be “pennywise and pound foolish.”

“The town planner covers her salary by a significant amount through writing grants,” he said. “You’d better think about that. It’s very important; she brings in a tremendous amount of money to this town. Be careful what you wish for.”

After Mr. Heckert spoke, voter Richard Silva made a motion to also reduce the tax assessor’s salary by 50 percent, saying it’s a do nothing position.

“We’re giving you money for an inefficient business,” he said. “That’s what’s happening to this town.

Again came a counterpoint, this time from Warren treasurer Michael Abbruzzi.

“The tax assessor is responsible for bringing in approximately 100 percent of your budget,” he told the audience. “This is your main source of revenue. If we eliminate or reduce this position, we would lose our ability” to raise funds. “This is the one position that creates revenue.”

When it came to a vote, the motion failed 66 to 115, though Ms. Tattrie stoodwith those calling for the assessor’s position to be cut to part time; it was the only time a councilor voted to reduce an employee's salary Monday. Though the assessor was spared, the planner, building official and town clerk were not so lucky; voters approved cutting their salaries by a total of of $57,871.

What does it mean?

After voters finished cutting the two positions, Mr. Abbruzzi informed the crowd that those cuts would also free up money in the town’s employee benefits, Social Security tax and pension cost lines to the tune of about $15,900, leaving the town with enough money to reinstate funding to the recreation department. Also reinstated was $17,000 to the East Bay Community Action Program, which like the recreation department petitioned the town prior to the meeting to have funding that had been previously cut by the town council reinstated.

Heading into the meeting, the expected tax rate was $20.09 per $1,000 in valuation. Afterwards, the expected rate fell to $20.07.

“This is one sad little town,” Warren Town Planner Caroline Wells texted a reporter following the vote.


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Wow! The voters came out and demanded action. They took their anger over the huge tax increase out on the only ones they could. In the end, they cut the town budget to the bone and only reduced the coming tax increase by $0.07. 7 CENTS! We still have an increase of over 7% coming.

This is why I'm.....


Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

You're right!!!

It's worse than I thought!!!!!!! LOL!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Let me get this straight, the town custodian now makes more than the town planner?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

The town is Broke.

I think it's important to note in the story that I changed my motion after being instructed that I could not propose a 5% cut across the Town Offices Section of the Budget, and that I needed to come back down and do so "line-by-line".

Ted, it may be worth-while to follow up with the present developer as to what, if any, concern's they've had with dealing with the town planners office. It's my understanding that they wanted to start construction next month, however, still waiting on ???

We made a gap big enough to reinstate the Rec & Summer Program as well as EBCA.

However, there are many more cuts needed.

I remarked on the story on Facebook about the MVQ building... WHY DO WE STILL HAVE THAT?

The job of the council and manager is to constantly evaluate what the towns needs are and are not. That's called Management. We don't need the MVQ building, however, we've held on to it for over 15 years.

We held on to the Liberty Street school for years after we closed it, refusing offers and it ended up costing this town so much money.

If we need space for a program, monthly, daily or on a regular basis, there's plenty of vacancies in Ocean State Plaza: Rent it as needed!!

This situation didn't happen overnight, it's been years of failure. The town council and manager have had plenty of opportunity to fix this, but they haven't. So now it's up to the residents to forcefully send them message.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Let's sell the MVQ school to a charter school!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

There is a Town Hall custodian...AND....a Government Center we need both ? When my company has a slow down we all get effected. EVERYONE of us ! Cut in pay...Cut in hours...No Overtime...Job Sharing...Hiring Freezes...No raises...etc. The department heads need to take a long look at who or what they can do without now before a receiver does it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this
Honoré de Balzac

i think a great idea would be to have warren cut ties with bristol and merge with borrington

they have the money, warren needs the money...

problem solved

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Ted; Thanks for that info. How has the developer found the working relationship with the Town Planner?

How about a synopsis on prior developers proposals and why they bailed?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Ok; I'll take you at your word for that. Of course we could always ask the same question to the developer after they're done dealing with the town. I'm sure at this point there is an air of "maintain a positive attitude" despite frustrations.

What about Grants?

It's in the Job Description. What Grants have come from the Town Planner for the past 2 years?

Ted; I appreciate that you've indulged this conversation to this point, and completely understand if you can't continue. I realize these are answers that should really be coming from the individuals involved.

And if the best reply is a Text Message from the person holding the position, you can imagine why the general public has such disdain for the department.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this


What happened to the "No Unity in Warren" editorial? Please repost. It was spot on!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Mr. DeCastro,

In response to your question about the amount of grant funding Ms. Wells has brought into the town in the past two years, I can tell you of three that I know of (but assume there is more based on my past work in the position) - a DEM trails grant in 2013 of $62,500 (right there is probably more than her annual salary - at least it was when I was in that job!!), a Planning Challenge Grant in 2012 (with Bristol) for $30,000, and annually the Director of Planning and Community Development is responsible for applying for and managing the Community Development Block Grant program that brings in between $100,000 and $200,000 annualyl. All of those funds go out to low income persons and/or programs in the town.

The "planner" postion is not a cake-walk position. You serve the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission, assist the Historic District Commission, Harbor Commission, Rec Board...pretty much ever board in some aspect. There are a great number of longer than 8 hour days and constant night meetings. There is a great amount of contact with the public as well. The position also assists in plan reviews, zoning reviews, zoning and other ordinance drafting...the list goes on.

As for the budilding official job - that was a very poor choice in terms of cuts....This is the one position that safeguards the town's people from construction issues, tenant landlord issues, trash problems, etc. This position serves the zoning board and the planning board. Again many hours outside of the scheduled work day. This person in this job needs to constantly be training and certified as well. With Mr. Nash leaving for greener pastures, good luck finding someone that will do all that work for 1/2 the salary of anywhere else in the state.

The Town Clerk is the actual face of the town after the Town Manager. She has more people come to her for service than anyone in town hall. This position is responsible for all town documents, bid processes, town meeting schedules, licensing requirements....the list goes on.

I understand Warren pretty well, and I have experienced the personality issues and conflicts first hand, but targeting positions that service the residents of the town because certain people out there, for whatever reason, that don't like the individuals serving in those positions is a bad move...especially at the cost to the public with a gain of a total .02 off their tax rate.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

I understand what you're saying and completely agree. However, both those positions are covered in the collective bargaining agreeement between the union and the town. It would make sense though. We HAVE to cut somewhere, more. After all that we only reduced the rate by TWO CENTS. Haha what a joke.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Actually Ted, we didn't lose our financing. Not sure where that comes from.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

i guess that would explain why people are moving to Seekonk and Swansea to stay close by but pay a lot less in property taxes and what not

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Unfortunately, there is no one issue that, if corrected, will pull Warren out of the situation we find ourselves in. This is a systemic problem in how our town operates (not a shot at the administration). We have an opportunity to change this. As a small business owner, I am constantly challenged to adapt my company in the face of changing business and economic drivers. Its survival of the fittest and if we don't adapt and evolve, we run the risk of failure. Failure in the private sector means people lose jobs, income, benefits, companies close, all causing a variety of effects downstream. We need to look at the choices we have before us with the same business sensibilities that allow private enterprise to flourish. Warren is small enough to allow us a level of visibility into the operations of our municipal government and services that many municipalities would die for. With an operating budget of +/- $23Mil, our town is the size of a small to mid sized enterprise. Perhaps the time has come to take the opportunity we have to make the changes necessary for our town to prosper, and start running it like one.

The change I am suggesting is not simple, nor easy, but it is required if we want our town to remain viable. These changes also go beyond a single annual budget. These are changes that require hard decisions and some discomfort, if not pain, but this is the situation we find ourselves in. We have used all of our band-aids and its time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty and make the changes required to sustain and grow.

Ultimately, this leaves us with two questions:

1. Are we ready, as residents of this town, to become more involved and push for the changes necessary?

2. Can we really afford to wait any longer?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Hello Warren residents, when I lived in Warren I was voicing my concerns in this paper about how town officials were not doing there job. As I made many comments, I was told I should leave Warren and I did. But I have been reading the real problems that are front page news and I can say I TOLD YOU SO! Remember, I addressed Town employees having May 4th as a paid holiday, when there is no significance any more, yet the taxpayer was on the hook for holiday pay. Need a new rescue truck but have no money, what happen to the 3rd party billing returns from insurance. ALL that money that comes back to the town and goes into that hole called a general fund. One year of that billing would buy a new truck and then some. The only thing making money in Warren are the cops handing out tickets. I kept saying the taxpayers need to get up and say something and now everyone realizes it is to late, Take a lesson from Central Falls. I would start with the pay the council gets, cut there first, then work your way down. cut out all the paid holidays in town contracts except for the major ones. There is so much waste and if you cut that, there would be enough to keep recreation and the summer fests that everyone use to enjoy. And for the schools, $135,000.00 for a Superintendent is crazy. If I had anything to say he get $80,000. and like it. Good luck taxpayers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

That should help the convo. I like the way you take a dump and finish with "going down the toilet..."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

And GoodbytoRI, say goodbye already for crying out loud, let it go for you own sake.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

I don't want anyone to confuse me with Ted Hayes. Just a local that is sad to see our hard working town employees and volunteers get savaged for circumstances mostly beyond their control.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | Report this

Here's an exchange I just had with the town planner, Caroline Wells:

My email:

When I asked at the town meeting whether your position was really needed, I wasn't suggesting at that point that the position be eliminated. Rather, I was asking the town councillors to give their opinions as to the importance of your position so that the voters could assess the value of it. I was the one who cautioned the audience that if they cut your position to part-time, you might leave.

Warren isn't "one sad little town", as you said to the reporter. It just has a lot of poor people who can't afford a high tax rate, which is what we have compared to other towns in the state.

Her response:

Warren is a sad little town, for so many reasons. The high tax rate has nothing to do with my position. No other office in Town Hall provides more money and assistance to the "poor people" in town than mine. Through grants that I write, we get about $200,000 a year for homeless assistance, rental assistance, elderly and child assistance, home repairs, storefront repairs, etc.

Since I began working in Warren in 2008, I have brought in about $1.6 million in grants to the Town, or about $320,000 per year. These include the public services above as well as improvements to your roads, sidewalks, parks, paths--all of the things that bring up property values (which lowers your taxes) and are free for enjoyment.

Finally, the plans that my office writes--like the Hazard Mitigation Plan--enable residents to tap FEMA programs in times of disaster and reduce their flood insurance rates.

All of these activities will be cut or severely reduced after July 1st--and that is sad too.


I'm not going to make a judgement about whether we should have cut her position in half, but I wish she would stop disparaging the town. You can't blame her for being bitter, though.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

"Don't you dare" well Mr. Tattrie I do dare to not let people like yourself and the other bullies around here try to piss on me and tell me it's raining. I am not "you folks", just a guy who sees some people on this thread misdirecting their anger and undeservedly taking it out on people that work very hard for you and me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

I don't think cutting the town planners' position in half was a wise choice, though, I was not able to make it to the meeting, I must bite my tongue, but her position is to benefit the "poor people" of this town, and we all just took a nose dive.

Even the town clerk? I don't think a lot of careful consideration was done before these cuts were made, I do believe cuts are needed, but each department head should have been instructed to make their own cuts based on their department needs.

I don't think ANYONE should be seeing an increase in any salary or budget especially the harbour master, who just started? He certainly shouldn't already be getting a raise! Anyone making more then 80,000 dollars, should be cut down to size. I don't see where anyone is doing enough to be making more then 80,000, the way I see it, our police chief and fire chief are two most hard working and crucial people in this town and should be compensated accordingly. If they can live on less, so can't the rest of you in your 9-5 jobs, in your air conditioned offices.

I agree with Gina, one custodian, for 2 buildings is plenty, or bring in a cleaning company for a quarter of the price.

Mary V. Quirk is not being run the way it was intended,and obviously no one is supervising the way it is being run, it is a joke and a money pit. sell it to EBCAP, they are the one's who use it everyday for a very small fee. Cut the recreation directors salary, beg Bristol to let us join their very well run and very well funded recreation program.

let the fire department and Police department keep all of their revenue instead of it going into the big black hole, called the general fund, and they can fund their own purchases. Clothing budget for fire and police cut, I have to buy my own clothes for work

One person in the clerks office,

have all taxes/treasurers business done on line and have the office open 1 day a week, or one day a month for those who are not computer literate. Nash's job, part time for sure! So where are we? one custodian down, 5-6 administrative assistants down, one rec director, one costly building closed and sold to EBCAP, One very highly paid person cut in half, 5-6 other highly paid officials slashed dramatically. Town planner back in full time to write more grants for our sad little town, and it's poor people, Fire/ Police fund their own purchases.... Ok, I just solved the town's problems... Aren't you glad I bit my tongue? I am sorry I couldn't make it to the meeting, I do want to thank those of you who did make it, and spoke up and let them hear what they needed to hear! Kudos to you all! And Caroline, I do think you do an amazing job for the town, sorry it turned out this way!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

Ted, nobody is confusing you with Ted Hayes, it appears your a local, and I made these claims years back and nobody wanted to listen. I am not crying because my taxdollars are not in jeopardy of going down the drain. Its people like you and your attitude that allowed this to happen because everyone had a right to speak out and to vote, the present town council were voted in and are part to blame for warren woes. Im not crying as I said, I sit back and say I TOLD YOU SO>

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

I understand "GoodbytoRI" that you are a disgruntled former resident that is eager to say "I told you so". Now all of the angry peeps with their axes to grind have their say for a bit. The fact remains that the money we are short is the money that the state has stopped contributing toward the schools plus the increase on what they are demanding. That will just get alot worse over the next few years. I personally think getting the administrative layer to cover a wider area of towns may be the answer I mean how many superintendants are there between Providence and Newport making 130k or so per year? As for you gb, everyone has heard you tell us so, twice now, maybe its time for you start punching your holes where you currently reside. They need you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

Ted,, where I reside doesn't have these problems, and if you switch to the article about the superintendent you will see I left a concern there too. . These councils and school boards pass out money like candy and they don't even do there job trying to fill these positions. . $135,000. salary is crazy, but its the people that don't go to the committee meetings and say something are to blame, Stop showing your anger to a former resident, and get to a meeting and yell. I was a one man team trying to make changes, nobody would listen, as many people agreed with me, nobody stood up to say something. The gentleman in the picture looks very good for a candidate for town council. . You need people that will listen to their voters and not run the place with the ears closed, like this council has done. You can agree with me, but don't try to tell me to be quite, because when something that ails me here I will stand up and say something.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

Hey Now... I didn't fire or eliminate the Town Planner... Just cut it back... That's all! And this isn't a personal vendetta, although I've heard a ton more negative than positive about her performance: To be honest: I wouldn't know her if I saw her.

Everyone needs to remember a few things:

1. Grants are not Free Money! It's merely taxes you've already, or will some day be required to pay. Look at your paycheck: That line that says "Federal"... This is part of where that money goes.

2. There's this notion that money from grant's covers her salary: NEWSFLASH: IT DOESN'T: The money goes towards the project and can anyone think of any project that's been completed Under or At Budget in our town? Where do you think that overage come from?... Once again: OUR TAX DOLLARS.

3. Someone mentioned about the Harbor Master getting a raise. He didn't get a raise: The numbers were simply aligned properly for the first time in who knows how long. Not to mention that since the new harbor master has started (only a few months ago): the town has benefited from over $75k in revenue that has been dormant because of previous harbor master. Not to mention there was money sitting in accounts from the past years to make desperate repairs to our revenue generating fishing berths, some of which had fallen so far into disrepair it was dangerous and paying customers were leaving to dock their boat elsewhere: (They pay money to the town to use the space... just saying) Those repairs are in process now... because we have someone who cares.

4. As far as the Building Official: This town is not getting any bigger, and there's not a lot of projects going on. The guy leaving barely did his job. If the town starts to prove to be prosperous again, then we can talk about the job needs and if we need to go full time, but there are cities and towns all across the country that are bigger and have more residents and 1 full time building official. We'll make do. This would be a great part-time position for an older person who lives in warren, who perhaps has retired from a similar trade and is looking for a part time; do some good and keep busy job. It will work out. We'll all be fine.

REMEMBER: I did not single-handedly wipe out these positions. I was the only one bold enough to walk down to the microphone. The Quorum voted, and the cuts were made. Were you there? Did you see the people coming down with more suggestions for cuts? Why didn't you come down and speak?

Some guy sitting in the front row, slouched in his seat, started asking me questions and criticizing me and attempting to insult me: What's sad is he didn't have the balls to walk up to the mic himself, announce his name and where he's from and voice his opinion correctly. Maybe that's cause he wasn't supposed to be sitting there? idk

I originally suggested 5% across the board... The rules forced me to come down and make specific cuts to line items.

The above response from the Town Planner is the most I've ever heard from her. Time for change. Don't like the job or salary? Good Bye! Plenty of far more talented and qualified people who will do the job.

Does anyone even realize that the Fire Department Grants that have been secured over the past decade, totaling in the MILLIONS have been written by a volunteer? The town hasn't so much as given the guy a free cup of coffee or a dinner, let alone a salary... In fact: He lives in Warren!! WOAH!!! What a concept! Someone From the Town, doing something for the Town... FOR FREE!!!

I would also like to correct our Treasurer, which I regret not recognizing what he had stated until it was too late: The Tax Assessor IS NOT 100% Responsible for the revenue the town receives. Third Party Billing from the Fire Department consistently brings well over $300k annually to our town. That money goes into the General Fund. The equipment is getting old, ambulances are beginning to break down, but our Fire Chief is doing everything he can, to keep it together. Harbor Master and his department bring in funding as well. There are other departments that bring in funding. I'll give credit to the Town Planner who's brought some in, but again, We're a small town: It can be done Part Time.

I almost Forgot!!! You've all heard of Google, Bing, Amazon, Kindle, and iTunes, right? Of Course You have!

Heads up George Hail Library: You might want to start your private fundraising now.... because $400k+ for a town library is a steep price. (yes, half of that is matching grants... right... FROM YOUR STATE & FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS PAID)

Lastly: No, I will not be running for town council. I don't have time. I have to work so I can pay my property tax and vehicle tax, pay for repairs to my vehicles because the roads in town are horrible. - Side Note; when I called the Town Managers office to inform them about the Free piece of equipment being given away to each city & town in the state by a RI Company. 1: It took a week to get a call back, and 2: I was told by the Town Manager that maybe I need to buy a more expensive vehicle with better suspension. -While that comment may have been made "Tounge-in-Cheek" I found it to be rather offensive.

So it seems as though people are starting to pay attention now. That may subside, but believe me, I don't think we'll ever see a Non-Quorum Financial Meeting- Just pass it budget again.

I've made some noise, and people are noticing: Let's keep it going!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

There you go Ben well stated, it takes more then one to make changes, in a democracy it takes more then one. I brought issue to the previous town manager making $70,000. a year did nothing for the people, and I went alone against town officials, then at the years end, he up and quit his position, Nobody know why other then the council. Good luck and hope all goes well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

It would seem that a lot of the reason for our high taxes has to do with three things: (1) Warren's share of the overall school budget, (2) mandates from the state that we have certain positions, and (3) union contracts that require things like minimum staffing of departments. Those are the areas that we need to make changes in. The Town Planner's position essentially became a scapegoat for the voters' anger (and probably because we all assumed that most of what she did was planning, when in fact most of what she does is getting money for the town). Since cutting her position saved us only 2 cents per $1,000 of property value, maybe we should restore her position to full-time.

And let me add that if saving the recreation budget means that I'll have to listen to noise from the band shell all summer, then I'm not happy about that. The original band shell was made for acoustic instruments, not electrified instruments. The bands that play there are just cover bands; the quality of the entertainment is low.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | Report this

It seems like everyone wanted to make cuts to save the Rec. Summer Program. Why not charge families for the program? Most summer day camps start at $200/week. I think charging families $200 for the summer would b e more than fair.

Thursday, May 22, 2014 | Report this

The Summer Rec program is no longer a free program. Starting in the summer of 2012 you have to pay per child that attends.

Friday, May 23, 2014 | Report this

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