May 9, 2009

Financial Town Meeting 2009

Justin Katz

Quirky Internet service has delayed my initial post, but I've been sitting in the Tiverton High School gymnasium for about a half-hour already. At about ten-of-nine (start time), I'm a little surprised that the turnout isn't better. We're probably somewhere in the 300-400 people range — sufficient for a quorum, but disappointing, given the turn-out-the-vote effort on all sides. I wonder if the lack of substantive immediate political controversy (as opposed to the specific disputes typical of town politics) have kept the enthusiasm low. Maybe it's the weather, cultural depression... who knows.

9:08 a.m.
Moderator Michael Burk just announced a few more minutes of delay to allow the lines of people to get in. Rumors have it that the lines extend to cars waiting to get in several blocks away.

9:29 a.m.

Still waiting. We're probably nearing 1,000 people at this point. Apparently, if the building hits capacity (upwards of 2,000, I believe), they postpone the meeting.

My early concerns appear to have been premature.

Town Solicitor Andy Teitz, Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Caron, and Moderator Michael Burk

Budget Committee Vice Chairman Rob Coulter chats with School Committee Attorney Stephen Robinson, while Superintendent Bill Rearick speaks with school department Director of Administration and Finance Doug Fiore as I take a picture immediately over Fiore's shoulder on the big screen:

The crowd just before the start of the meeting:

9:41 a.m.

We're under way. The official count is 700 people. Mr. Burk is currently going over the process for a ballot vote; the presentation is certainly persuasive to avoid them for more than close, important votes.

9:52 a.m.

The town council just lost its bid to add $300,000 to the budget for abatement protection. That should have been in the budget.

9:56 a.m.

Current discussion is whether the petition for a ladder truck is in order. Burk ruled the resolution is in order, even if it would be impossible to actually enact it.

A resident asked whether more firefighters would have to be hired to man the truck. Town Council President Don Bollin said that they don't have that information. Audience unrest, but Bollin clarified that he doesn't support the truck.

Chief Robert Lloyd is answering that all firefighters will be trained on the truck.

10:09 a.m.

Fire truck goes down.

10:20 a.m.

Some resolves from the Budget Committee were unexpectedly controversial. The mood may indicate that the taxpayers are again rising up.

10:55 a.m.

We're talking about the school department's budget. Three amendments to the initial amount have reduced the total and divided the total into an Operating and Capital Budget from Local Sources amount and a General State Aid, essentially determining who has to make up the difference if aid falls short: the town (taxpayers) or the school.

11:29 a.m.

An amendment that I made to the school committee budget was voted down. It was the third amendment, which is the maximum allowed. In short, I'm not too sad that it fell. It was actually the highest in dollar amount of the three by one dollar.

11:36 a.m.

Just a note: Mr. Burk is being fair, writing down the order of questioners regardless of microphone, etc. There have been a couple of points in which he's seemed a hair argumentative, but nothing beyond the boundaries of plain human nature.

The latest people count was 666, and people continue to leave.

11:43 a.m.

School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy requested a paper ballot.

11:48 a.m.

I can't believe the amount of contention even to do a paper ballot. If this happens and the vote changes there will be huge angst.

11:51 a.m.

No paper ballot, and there's been a motion to move the remainder of the budget.

11:54 a.m.

A moment to breathe while we figure out procedure. I'll take the opportunity to suggest that the powers who be in Rhode Island take note that the Tiverton School Department just experienced a taxpayer-driven cut in its budget.

12:25 p.m.

Town Council member Hannibal Costa appealed the moderator's decision to let amendments be made to the municipal total. His appeal passed, and Jeff Caron appealed on the grounds that Robert's Rules disallow appeals after debate has proceeded. Costa's clearly incorrect, and Caron is clearly correct that Costa's appeal was out of order. But, we have to finish the meeting in order to ensure that there's no redux of last year's reworking of the budget, so it's probably a good thing that reformist efforts thus far are preserved.

12:43 p.m.

Town Council member Louise Durfee just took the opportunity of a procedural intermission to chastise a few members of the school committee for not speaking out more forcefully in favor of their budget.

Well, well, well...

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Very interesting. It's good to hear that the FTM was conducted fairly.

Posted by: Monique at May 9, 2009 6:23 PM

"Town Council member Louise Durfee just took the opportunity of a procedural intermission to chastise a few members of the school committee for not speaking out more forcefully in favor of their budget."

Really. And in the interest of balance and fairness, what official Tiverton body is designated to speak out in favor of the tax payer?

Posted by: Monique at May 9, 2009 6:52 PM

Too bad. Tivertonians had a chance to save themselves some real money and attract (tax-paying) businesses to town.

Posted by: EMT at May 10, 2009 6:30 AM

Now i`m not saying this IS going to happen but a very realistic "what if"... Communities have done it in the past and i have to imagine that this school committee will be no different... We have slashed the school departments budget to FY 08-09 +$1.00... I understand that the cuts will save on the tax rate, but if the school does take the town to court.... we will now be faced with litigation fees along with the possibility of paying that amount and maybe more... where will those funds come from if a court rules with the schools?... a supplemental tax bill?..

I do understand that the people voted to fund it at this level, and if the school committee makes it work with these levels great, but i dont see it playing out like that...

Posted by: tivcitizen at May 10, 2009 9:12 AM
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