June 5, 2009

Taxes Go Up in Warwick

Marc Comtois

In Warwick this week, after all was said and done, the average homeowner will see an increase of $146 to their annual property tax bill. Ultimately, despite an attempt to cut more, the schools were level-funded, largely because--with 86% of the school budget locked in--the remaining 14% of cuts would directly affect the students. Think about that for a second: 86% of the school budget is related to contractual obligations or fixed costs (heating, electric, etc.). For his part, School Committee Chair Christopher Friel's seemed exasperated:

“I’m just absolutely flabbergasted that all the talk about budget has centered around reducing the school department budget when the city is raising property taxes by $8.7 million and none of it is coming to the school department.”
He's got a point, but the level-funding is going to a School department that has one less elementary school now (and 4 less over the last 2 years). That being said, it was very much a case of the City Council and the Mayor continuing to point the finger of blame at the School Committee and Administration, who lay outside of their direct control. Well, they have a point. And that's the, um, point. There is plenty of blame to go around. Warwick is just another example of the larger systemic problem we have in the state, but all our leaders seem willing to do is nibble around the edges and wait for someone else to make the tough decisions.

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The only Republican, Ward 1 Councilman, Steve Colantuono who was the deciding vote on all the proposed $500,000 municipal budget cut amendments voted against the $1.9 million school dept cut and the final amended budget costing taxpayer $2.4 million.

It’s amazing he did not even have the guts to back up his own party boss, Republican Mayor Avedisian, voting against the Mayor's budget.

Interesting that the teacher's union president happen to speak with Colantuono at a break right before the vote on cutting $1.9 million from the school budget. It appears whatever was said; cause Mr. Colantuono to switch his vote. Also the entire finance committee met Colantuono, Councilwoman Travis and Council President Place at Councilman Gallucci house earlier that day (Gallucci admitting at the meeting they met to caucus)to determine the amendments they would make at the meeting. Making decisions like that is clearly a violation of state open meetings laws.

In addition, Ward 5 councilman John DelGuice was on board with the group voting with the four on every amendment.

These amendments were just smoke and mirrors. They were unrealistic and just a show to make it look like they were looking out for the taxpayers.

It's clear Colantuono switched his vote at the last minute. Rumor has it that the union president warned Colantuono to remember who helped put him in office and could take him out.

Now you why Warwick is in such a mess.

The time to make meaning change for the taxpayers was in February when they extended the municipal contracts for three more years with no changes to healthcare and pension benefits.

Councilors Merolla and Solomon were the only two who voted against these contracts. Personnel costs and debt on the city side make up 86% of the city budget.

Nothing really could be done to save money for the schools or city the damage was already done. Out of the remaining 14% on the city and school budget most of it is fixed costs (gas, electricity, etc.).

How about getting rid of lifetime healthcare after 10 years, $600 annual cap on prescription drug cost for employees and the $14 a week health co-pay. How about pension reform, eliminate automatic 3% cola's.

This is what is bankrupting Warwick.

As we seen with Mr. Colantuono, and most of the others, Special Interest over public interest.

Posted by: nothing new in Warwick at June 5, 2009 12:06 PM
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