Editorial: Barrington town leaders are ignoring the storm clouds

Posted 4/30/20

The whole country is adrift at sea, powerless, taking on water, and hoping not to sink into the deepest Great Depression in modern history … and then there’s the Town of …

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Editorial: Barrington town leaders are ignoring the storm clouds

Posted

The whole country is adrift at sea, powerless, taking on water, and hoping not to sink into the deepest Great Depression in modern history … and then there’s the Town of Barrington.

In the midst of a nearly total economic shutdown, with a third of the state’s workforce on unemployment, town leaders have so far done nothing (economically speaking). It’s as if Barrington leaders believe this spectacular coastline is somehow immune from the economic typhoon raging offshore.

Two brave souls — Town Councilors Jacob Brier and Joy Hearn — suggested during a public meeting (held on Zoom) that the town should reduce some expenditures next fiscal year. Specifically, they proposed the town halt a plan to create two new positions in the public works department. They also suggested elimination of stipends for town councilors.

Though two full-time positions are significant, the total proposed savings would be pennies in a municipal budget of nearly $18 million. The proposed cuts were mostly a symbolic way of showing taxpayers they’re aware of the situation and reacting to the crisis.

But the majority disagreed and rejected both proposals. Councilor Steve Boyajian explained that he does not want to make any cuts to expenses now, because cuts would lower the property tax rate. In the likely scenario that the state reduces funding to cities and towns, Barrington might need to make up the shortfall with its own property taxes. Translation: We need our tax bills as high as possible, so we can get the money and then figure out how best to spend it.

It’s a tone-deaf response to the current climate; it’s borderline offensive.

Thousands of Barrington households are facing enormous economic stress. This is a climate in which doctors, dentists and orthodontists have taken pay cuts; in which business owners have laid off all employees and have no revenues; in which lawyers are struggling to bill hours to clients they can’t see … In other words, every household, in one way or another, is affected or soon will be.

Furthermore, every city and town is impacted one way or another. They’re either seeing massive surpluses in the current year, or predicting massive revenue shortfalls next year, or both.

Consider this sampling from neighboring towns, all reported in the past two weeks:

And then there’s Barrington, which appears to have done nothing — no real layoffs, no significant savings, no cuts to the budget, no relief to taxpayers.

So far, nothing.

The process is not done, and perhaps the cuts will come later rather than sooner. However, to this point, the majority of town leaders seem out of touch with reality. The town manager continues working out in his own private gym inside the public safety complex. The council refuses to cut expenses. The entire government is rolling along, with full staffing and full employment. And a typhoon gathers strength just offshore.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.