The recent has placed the Town of Warren in an extraordinarily difficult position. The JFC council’s ability to meet a number of our resident’s basic needs and will devastate our ability to successfully deal with the fiscal challenges that lay ahead. The JFC significantly increased next year’s level of maintenance for the school district. The town, as a corporation, cannot afford to fund the dollar amount the JFC passed in its 6-3 vote, financially or philosophically.
The town struggled to slash our operating costs in hopes of building a responsible budget. Instead, we built a budget that does not allow the residents to reward their department heads for the hard work and unwavering commitment they have shown our community.
Once again, the Town of Warren is forced to forego many necessary improvements to our infrastructure that would enhance our economy and ability to attract new business to town. We cut each department's operating expenses by ten percent. The town raised the price of a transfer station sticker and cut the number of Saturdays it is open to the public by half. Nevertheless, the most unnerving experience is the fact that the will of over 10,000 residents was negated by the Town of Bristol. The effects of the JFC’s vote are calamitous. Bristol Town Council chairman Kenneth Marshall spoke of building a spirit of collaboration, but instead may have fostered a sense of bitter alienation. The JFC was presented with a clear opportunity to support our community in a time of hardship but instead chose to ignore the steps the council has taken to hold onto our way of life.
Bristol is blessed with the lion’s share of the wealth; Bristol can ride through the financial breakers much more smoothly than Warren because of its larger tax base. Recently the Town of Warren set out immediately to correct the economic vexations that have crippled our town. We had already taken quick, bold steps to reshape our fiscal policies, ensure future successes and restore a sound credit rating. Bristol’s representatives could have offered an olive branch this one time and supported our efforts to level fund the Bristol Warren Regional School District’s bottom line.
I have heard from many residents who are unhappy with Bristol’s shortsightedness in this matter. They have reminded me that the Town of Bristol continues to thrive from maintaining the concept of neighborhood schools. They too believe that the Town of Bristol restored a number of historic buildings using our residents’ hard-earned dollars to subsidize the renovations by channeling those dollars through the school district. Warren no longer enjoys the clear educational benefits that are derived from of neighborhood elementary schools. We have also been saddled with maintaining outdated buildings during a real estate slump.
Sadly, the town of Warren’s economic health appears stifled by individuals who do not reside within our community’s borders or pay taxes to the Town of Warren. Worse still, the council finds itself in a position where it cannot create a budget that it finds acceptable to the people of Warren. Unfortunately, it feels as if six of Bristol’s residents now decide our community’s priorities and to the extent to which we can provide basic services.
To this measure I must now consider the central idea pervading the council’s struggle — fair representation. It is the necessity thrust upon us at this very moment to determine our next move. There exists no formal appeal process. To this end we will discuss our legal options with the town’s solicitor and develop a comprehensive strategy. This will include proposals to change the enabling legislation so that our community is afforded some protections from such a devastating vote in the future. There is an extraordinary inequity wherein an entire community rejects the bottom line and has an unaffordable number forced upon it against its will. A provision stating that at least one vote in the affirmative must come from the opposing municipality — this single measure would ensure a degree of fair representation and protect our right to self-determination.
Certainly, we are not in a position to raise taxes and further cuts to our municipal budget will cause irreparable harm. We will have a frank and open discussion about what to do next and we must research the consequences that may result if the people reject the JFC’s increase at the town financial meeting. We must also urge of legislators to introduce a bill that funds education through another means other than property taxes. Clearly, if we do not act in this way the situation will grow even more dire next year and we must plan ahead in order to meet our community’s needs over the next five years.
Note: According to EastBayRI.com, on Tuesday the council unanimously voted to reject the Joint Finance Committee's orders to increase school funding and will level fund the district in FY13.