In continuing with one of my campaign promises, I’m writing to share how I plan to vote at the Financial Town Meeting tomorrow night, and why. For the majority of the votes, there is little remaining to be learned or discussed. There are a few where I expect many comments will be expressed for and against various things, and so on those items I am less firm, but will also share more of my general thinking.
Before getting into the knitty-gritty, I’d like to first share a chart I created to help re-think how we view setting our taxes, which in Barrington we all (can) have a hand in doing. In RI, the property tax burden is especially high. In Barrington, our tax rate is lower than more than a quarter of municipalities -- and I’d stack our quality of life up against anybody. We also spend in the lowest quartile for per-student expenses in our School District, yet have the best in the state. Those stats and accomplishments don’t change the reality of the situation, though. I hear and understand the resentment of our tax burden. I too would be happy to receive a lower tax bill next year than I did last year.
This is where the different view comes into play. Look at your tax payments as investments in our town, and more importantly for this exercise, as investments in the value of your home. When we continue to fuel improvements in our schools, put resources behind economic development and resiliency, and better maintain our natural environment, we are protecting our most valuable asset (for most people).
I was looking at our tax rates and home values over time, and represented in this chart is that our investments are paying off.
Here, we see that the home values have increased by more than 20%, which is double the change in the tax rate. This isn’t directly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does make clear that the increased expenses we’ve incurred as a result of our collective action have been generating a positive return on investment. Even for people who do not use the services for which they are paying, it does not diminish the usefulness of those services in maintaining and increasing their property value.
And now, on to the FTM:
Agenda listed here. (click Council Agendas, then May 22, 2019 Financial Town Meeting)
1 - 4: Nothing on which to vote
As an aside; the thoroughness with which the non-partisan Committee on Appropriations studies the budget and the attention to detail given to proposed increases and decreases are substantial. They meet every week for several months in order to come to their recommendation to the town. I am grateful for their service to our community.
5 - 12: Resolutions for various accounts - YES (on all)
These are all administrative changes for accounts where we have/will be saving money for specific uses in the future.
13: Tax Stabilization / Exemption - Unsure
I was surprised when I saw this on the agenda, so I sought more information. The purpose would be for the property at which the former Zion Bible College was, which is now owned by ShineHarmony. The company plans to build a senior housing community. The property is listed for sale, for the same purpose, and I’m told this resolution would allow the town to enter into a similar tax stabilization agreement that ShineHarmony had. That is expiring shortly, and they are also looking to sell it, so this would apply to the new owner. Before deciding on the vote, I need to learn more.
14: Land acquisition for open space preservation at a cost of $1,125,000 - YES
I’d gone back and forth about this a bit. I voted in favor of pursuing this in a few different ways over the past couple months. I did so always knowing it would come to a vote at the FTM. I believe it should be voted on here. As a Councilor, I am in favor of it. As a resident whose personal preferences would prioritize other things over land acquisition for protection’s sake, I was less enthusiastic. I am in favor of conservation, and this didn’t supplant anything else for which I’d advocated, so I intend to vote in favor, but am keeping an open mind for compelling arguments during the FTM. (Shortly before posting this, I read a comment from fellow Councilor, Steve Boyajian that got me from “LIKELY” to “YES.”)
15 - 16: Procedural YES votes
17: No vote taken
18: Removing $246,000 from the school budget - NO
Our schools are already among the least funded in terms of per student funding. Our school administration, under the effective leadership of the diversely qualified School Committee has outperformed their funding time and time again. Removing money from the budget is not how we reward that success. Invest in your strengths, and you’ll continue to get stronger.
19: Accept the budget as presented/amended - YES*
*I intend to vote in favor of the budget as it is now, or as it may be amended as a result of the above votes. I am unsure how I would react to unexpected changes due to motions from the floor.
20: To Be Determined
21 - 22: Procedural YES votes.
23: Elections for the COA
I will be voting for these three members of the non-partisan Committee On Appropriation because I believe they will put the interests of the town as a whole front and center. I would vote for them on their own merits, happily, but there is even more reason I hope they win. They remain unsupported by a political party, unlike other candidates who have received financial support from a party for this non-partisan committee. They have also not been affiliated with policy initiatives, as other candidates have. I appreciate the objectivity that Cynthia, Mike and Jude can bring to the COA.