Tiverton Spenders Blame Others When Money Comes Up Short


Tiverton residents are being treated to an old, familiar trick.  The local government had the unique experience of adding millions of dollars in prospective annual revenue from the new Twin River casino in town, and that helped the big-spending faction in town win a couple of budgets at our annual referendum.  Spending went up.

Then the state government closed the casino for a few months and reneged on its promise to provide the town with a minimum of $3 million.  Now the spenders are blaming the local taxpayers group, the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, for not stopping them from building the money into the operating budget.

I explain on Tiverton Fact Check:

For the 2018-2019 budget, Mike DeCotis (now running for School Committee) and David Paull (now running for Town Council) voted as members of the Budget Committee to include casino revenue in the budget. The budget petition I put in that year did, too, but it spent less overall. Theirs won.

For the 2019-2020 budget, a petition from Sanford Mantell added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the town’s operating budget, including to the schools and to the library (whose budgets the law makes difficult to reduce once they’re increased). Mantell also decreased one-time capital expenditures from what the Budget Committee suggested, moving that money (again) to the operating budget.

That makes him the king of building casino money into the budget, and he was backed by Council Members Patricia Hilton and Denise DeMedeiros as well as the School Committee, who actually sent their lawyer to Town Hall to give Mantell free legal backing when errors in his petition threatened to keep it off the ballot. It got on, and it won.  TTA didn’t agree with it, but that’s what the voters wanted.

In fairness, though, I don’t actually agree with the new common wisdom of those very same people that casino revenue should be locked up in a restricted account.  Local government accounting gets weird, because the fundamental question isn’t what is correct or right, but what can be sold to the public in competition with other people who have different ideas.  Thus, in representative democracies, decisions come to be made on what sounds good or rules of thumb.  Often those are valuable, but the don’t do well with unique situations.

As a basic fact, new revenue can only go to new spending or reduced taxes.  When there is a direct link between a particular stream of revenue and a particular set of costs, restricted funds make sense.  In general, however, unless the government is going to spend the money on things that aren’t needed, restricting new revenue to a particular part of the budget doesn’t protect taxpayers against the possibility that the money will go away.  It protects that part of the budget against shortfalls in other revenue.  My TFC post gives some explanation of that, as well.

  • Lou

    I cannot believe you don’t have the courage to own this. Perhaps you don’t think it’s such a good idea anymore.

  • Joe Smith

    Seems like the issue isn’t so much process – you can make a case for either, especially at the municipal level and there is a lot of precedence with say PILOTs or in the past ARRA money (some towns used it for structural expenses that became a problem with one time money).

    You can second guess with a substantial change (like $3M for budget like Tiverton’s) that perhaps it should be phased in initially given the variable nature and the fact the state isn’t always the most reliable partner (unless you’re a 38 studios bond holder..)

    The process also includes if you have revenue shortfalls, you make cuts or find other revenue to solve the immediate problem – assigning blame or second guessing can come during the next budget cycle.

    Why isn’t the town council (or school committee) simply cutting the budget – or using fund balance (every school district and town saved money I’m sure from the spring with reduced expenses and less police/fire, etc.)?

    • Justin Katz

      The council and Budget Committee have mainly proposed cutting capital expenses and things like paving. Folks are still getting raises… money is still being paid out to private charities.

      • Lou

        “Folks are still getting raises… “…Isn’t that YOUR raise, Justin? That’s a nice little bump in your household income… from our pockets to yours. But I think you should do the honorable thing and turn down that taxpayer-funded raise. Let’s pull up your bootstraps and help out your neighbors (who are hurting)…plus, you would get more publicity than a decade on DePietro’s pirate radio gig.

  • D. S. Crockett

    The voters in Tiverton voted stupidly. Why would you vote for a casino unless the money was used to reduce taxes dollar for dollar? Giving money to local politicians is a fool’s errand that will not end well. You’ll wonder where the money went. Easy, into the pockets of the municipal unions through the sanctimonious local politicians who promised you a rainbow. Suckers!