FTR needs change, some on Tiverton council say

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/16/20

TIVERTON - The Tiverton Town Council narrowly voted down a proposal Monday night to create an advisory committee capable of making recommendations for improvements to the current Financial Town …

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FTR needs change, some on Tiverton council say

Posted

TIVERTON - The Tiverton Town Council narrowly voted down a proposal Monday night to create an advisory committee capable of making recommendations for improvements to the current Financial Town Referendum (FTR) and budgetary process.

In just over a week, on Sept. 26, Tiverton will be holding its FTR, long-delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When residents show up to the polls that Saturday, council President Patricia Hilton said that only one budget will be posted on the ballot – and yet the town will be spending upwards of $15,000 in order for them to go through the motions..

While spending that kind of money during a “financial crunch” is less than ideal, Ms. Hilton said that the current FTR process has caused Tiverton problems long before the pandemic.

In the eight years since the FTR was established, the town has been the target of a combined 12 lawsuits and charter complaints.

Budget committee members, she added, feel “frustrated” that they can’t advocate for the work that they do; meanwhile, those promoting alternative budgets are free to campaign as they wish. Hardly any updates had been made to the FTR process since 2012, Ms. Hilton said, and perhaps that needed to change.

“It’s time to start thinking about those long-promised tweaks we were going to make,” she said.

To begin, Ms. Hilton proposed creating an advisory committee – appointed by the Town Council and comprised of people from various backgrounds – to review the existing process and investigate what best practices other communities are employing.

But while councilor Nancy Driggs “appreciated” the thinking behind Ms. Hilton’s proposal, she said she is hesitant to make any changes to the current procedure on account of the pandemic, a once-in-a-lifetime situation. Plus, Ms. Driggs said that the current council only has three more meetings before a new council is sworn into office. That, she said, makes odd timing to try to push such changes through.

“I want to put the brakes on this suggestion right now,” Ms. Driggs said.

Councilor Donna Cook agreed, stating that it would be “unfair” to the next council.

Council Vice President Denise deMedeiros thought Ms. Hilton’s proposal was “a great idea,” but she, too, felt it should be tabled for now.

While he acknowledged that the timing was “certainly not the best,” councilor John Edwards said Tiverton needs to start exploring better practices – and that will be a lengthy process, added Town Clerk Nancy Mello. Though she was a proponent of the FTR, Ms. Mello said it has proven a “taxing” process, one that, at times, hasn’t made much sense. For years, Ms. Mello has said that the language needs to be “cleaned up” moving forward.

“I think it is long past the time to tweak it,” she said. “Long past.”

With that, Mr. Edwards made a motion to create a five-member advisory committee, with councilor Steve Clarke seconding. But the motion failed on a tied vote, with Ms. Hilton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Clarke all in favor and Ms. Cook, Ms. Driggs and Ms. deMedeiros all against.

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