Budgets, Hometowns, and Community


Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won.  Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.

But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit.  This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.

Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him.  Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries.  I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.

I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy.  New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island.  Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.

How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me.  What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.

The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication.  The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”

Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them.  It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.

Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.

  • Bruce Alexander

    One of my pet peeves comes every month on my electric and natural gas bills, it is disguised as LIHEP. Who knows what this is? It’s the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, or a state sponsored forced charity. Given that National Grid has about 1 million combined customers in Rhode Island, each charged 73 cents per account per month, that brings in approximately 8.7 million per year. Where is the audit of these funds? Why are we forced into this charity?

    • Mike678

      You may want to look at your cell phone and cable bill too. BTW, it’s not charity. Charity is voluntary (the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need). This is redistribution.

    • Lance Wilson


      I think the site said something like $9M and had (in 2014) a balance of $5M (which if NG was smart they are putting in a low risk investment and earning some return).

      It goes (in theory) to households with less than 60% of state median income plus energy efficiency projects (that were originally to come from the general fund back in 96 or so but the GA (of course) took out the funds).

      I suppose the counter argument is it may be cheaper than paying for all the other assistance and costs if the family is homeless, without utilities, etc. I don’t know – hard to run that kind of natural experiment by letting say 50% of the households have this assistance and 50% not. It would be an interesting experiment – which I believe may exist with the “Good neighbor” voluntary contribution on gas (?) bills — to see if people could opt out or make a higher/lower voluntary contribution. I guess you could also argue if the fund has a $5M surplus, maybe the rate should be lowered or at least reviewed (not sure if the PUC does this).

      Mike – yes, there are more tax and fee charges on those bills than actual service charges!

  • Mike678

    While I applaud the people of Tiverton for being involved in the political process, their decision may come back to bite them unless they can change the priorities of the town’s elected leadership. If the town leaders short preventive maintenance, for example, they can save $ in the short term (and keep funding their priorities) but the bill down the line becomes that much greater.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Exactly: It’s all about priorities. We have to stop accepting the bullying and manipulation that leaves politicians taking the easy way out and funding friends and pressure groups. One of our major problems right now is that we built something like $45 million of new buildings in the past 10-15 years, at least with the excuse that they were falling apart from lack of maintenance, and yet we continue to add personnel and give raises. Now add in the similar lack of “maintenance” on pensions and OPEB.

      In short, we’re already past the point at which priorities HAVE TO change, and the only way to make that happen is budgetary and political pressure.