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Woonsocket budget showdown

March 26, 2012

WOONSOCKET – More than 500 residents packed into Hamlet Middle School last night to decry the supplemental tax increase city officials have proposed as a partial solution to a cash crunch that’s rushing toward the city like a freight train.
At least two dozen residents and small business owners approached a microphone to address the City Council, seated on a stage in the cafetorium, as of press time, when the gripe session was still going on. Many expressed anger and distrust for city officials, and at least one man said certain ones, past and present, should be subject to a criminal probe for causing problems in the School Department that have been widely blamed for the crisis.
Raising his voice, John Reynolds Jr. said former Schools Supt. Robert Gerardi, suspended School Department Business Manager Stacey Busby and former Mayor Susan D. Menard should all be subpoenaed to answer questions about the causes of the financial meltdown. Then he looked up at members of the City Council, and stared directly at Councilman Marc Dubois.
“You too,” he said to Dubois, the former chairman of the School Committee.
The council is scheduled to act on a proposed supplemental tax April 2 that’s designed to raise some $4.3 million. The move would only go part-way toward closing a hole in the School Department’s budget that’s grown to $10 million, despite Busby’s predictions of a surplus in late 2011.
It has since come to light that Busby had an ironclad, no-termination clause in her contract which no one serving on the school committee at the time the pact was approved seems to know anything about. Recently, Dubois said publicly that that the contract must have been altered after he reviewed it, and members of the School Committee are poised to ask the State Police for an investigation tomorrow night.
Recriminations aside, the Fontaine adminstration says the city may run out of cash by the first week of April, forcing the city into bankruptcy, without a comprehensive plan of raising revenue, borrowing in anticipation of collecting supplemental taxes, and cutting costs to bridge the budget chasm. The supplemental tax bill alone, calling for a 13 percent increase over current rates, would be $3.13 per thousand on residential property. That means the owner of a home worth $100,000 would pay an unplanned $313 more this year, while business properties and motor vehicles would be slapped with even higher rates.
Reynolds wasn’t the only one looking for accountability from the School Department last night.
“We don’t know what happened,” said David Parenteau. “But it would be nice if someone who worked in that particular realm came out and said, ‘Hey, I screwed up.’”
The crowd was so packed for the gripe session that it had to be split up into two groups. About 300 squeezed into the cafetorium, while about 250 more were steered into the gymnasium, watching on a big overhead screen. At the outset, Council President John Ward advised spectators that it was their turn to talk — councilors were just there to listen. The mayor and Finance Director Tom Bruce were also on hand to answer questions, if necessary.
At various points during the feedback session, teachers were both attacked and defended. Some speakers decried the erosion of the city’s tax base, saying comparatively few property owners and businesses support a larger population of lower-income renters with children in school. And, in a refrain that continues to hold traction despite official efforts to drown it out, some said bankruptcy may be preferable to the city’s plan of cuts and supplemental taxes.
Alethia Forcier said she no longer has any trust that the fix proposed by city officials will put an end to the seemingly endless cycle of tax hikes and fiscal crises.
“How do I know you’re not going to come back at me again next year?” she said. Forcier said she knows bankruptcy is supposed to be a negative path, one that might depress crashed housing prices even more, but so what? “They’re already down anyway. It’s not going to cause that much harm.”
Phil Labrecque, an unsuccessful candidate for City Council during the last election, said he’s heard people say CVS, the city’s largest employer, will pack up and leave the city even worse off in response to a bankruptcy.
But Labrecque argued just the opposite. As a small business owner, he’d feel more comfortable knowing a bankruptcy filing had contributed to a more stable, equitable tax structure in the city, and he thinks CVS would feel the same.
“I would think a place like CVS would embrace a stable tax in the future,” he said.
Several people portrayed the property tax as an inequitable form of taxation, particularly in a city where a disproportionate number of residents live in rental property. The solution, they said, was a tax on everyone who lives in the city, whether they own property or not.
“Charge the renters something, especially if they have children in schools,” said Charles Souder.
Susan Paulina said the supplemental tax bill is the price city residents must now pay for the invisible wall that exists between municipal and school departments. Saying, “We need to change the way we do business with ourselves,” Paulina added, “We continue to act like we’re a divorced family who get can’t along. The taxpayers are the divorced children who feel the fallout from that.”
Jeanne Budnick, a city resident and owner of Pepin Lumber, was with the crowd saying more cuts are the cure for the city’s fiscal woes, starting with teachers' salaries. It’s a fallacy, she said, that teachers haven’t gotten raises, because a teacher at “step five” of the union contract is actually getting a six percent pay increase each year. “Step 10,” she declared, “that’s even sicker.”
But Sharon Knettell, the first speaker of the evening, said it’s short-sighted to blame teachers. She said the solution is to raise taxes fairly, not just by “nickel-and-diming hairdressers and restaurants,” but by going after “the wealthy.”
“The common mantra is, ‘Oh, they’ll leave,’” she said. “Good.”

Comments

taxes

March 27, 2012 by annonymous 99 (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1051

You say there has been an endless cycle of tax hikes....I didn't hear anyone complaining when Mayor Menard went 10 years without increasing school funding.

MENARD WAS A CROOK

April 4, 2012 by Simple Citizen (not verified), 2 years 24 weeks ago
Comment: 1087

SHE IS ONE OF THE REASON WERE IN THIS BOAT. CROOKED AS THEY COME AND SHE SHOULD BE THROWN IN JAIL.

tax

March 27, 2012 by frapp13 (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1050

We have no children and we pay taxes for the school. How about those who are renting? Let them pay taxes too.

LANDLORDS PAY.

April 4, 2012 by Simple Citizen (not verified), 2 years 24 weeks ago
Comment: 1088

MY FREIND HAS A COUPLE OF APARTMENTS AND HAS TO PAY DEARLY, SO RENT GOES UP AND THE PEOPLE JUST MOVE OUT. WHAT ABOUT LOW INCOME HOUSING PROJECTS. WE HAVE PLENTY OF THOSE WHO DO NOT PAY TAXES. HIT THEM UP. THEY HAVE MORE THAN I DO. MY KIDS DO NOT HAVE IPHONES. BUT MOST OF THERE FRIENDS IN LOW INCOM HOUSING DO? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PITCHURE?

tax

March 27, 2012 by frapp13 (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1049

I think there should be an investigation into this situation with the school committe members. Furthermore I just moved to woonsocket and feel that everyone should pay takes including those in tenement housing. Also, let the politicians take a cut in pay also.

Tax Renters , How are you going to ba able to do that ?

April 4, 2012 by Jeffo46 (not verified), 2 years 24 weeks ago
Comment: 1095

Just how in the Blue Blazes can you tax somebody who is just a renter? Can you please explain that to me ? Other than owning a car, if they don't own property, there's no legal way it can be done. The only thing that can be done is that the owner of the property they live in, is to raise their rent and use that to pay his share of the supplemental tax . That's the only way I can think of. So, think before you speak, okay ?

The big picture.......

March 27, 2012 by Marcel (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1048

When someone like Sharon Knettell says "good" to the prospect of the wealthy leaving the city, she's not our brightest bulb on the thinking tree. She sounds like a teenager saying she'll just go off on her own without a thought of where the next meal is coming from.

I'm with business owner Jeanne Budnick, cut the cost of running the place, period.
Woonsocket needs to attract people with money to come live there. The renewed properties like the mill conversions helped do just that. Took old buildings and turned them into condos full of new taxpayers.
My wife and I own one of those condos on Allen St. It's a 1400 sf unit that we pay more taxes on thanwe do on our primary home in California that's valued at almost three times the value of the Woonsocket condo. Our county government here went through bankruptcy and we all survived and no supplemental bills were ever mailed to property owners.

The City should form a steering committee made up of responsible business owners like Mrs. Budnick and get on the road to recovery.

Just like a drug addict.

March 27, 2012 by sinking fast (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1047

The City's drug of choice,debt,needs to be cut off.The required detox needs to begin.The denial phase should be ending soon.There is no other way.

A Federal Investigation Is In Order !!!!

March 27, 2012 by Jeffo46 (not verified), 2 years 25 weeks ago
Comment: 1046

I personally agree somewhat with what John Reynolds said at last night's meeting. Geraldi,Busby, Dubois, and especially Susan Menard should be subpoenaed but, also be investigated by the Federal Government concerning this matter! This reeks of corruption and embezzlement in the highest degree . As a result of these criminal, yes I said criminal actions,us people the citizens of Woonsocket , are being forced to suffer because of this . I for one, will not pay this proposed tax . The City Council and Leo Fountaine should be forced to take a 50% pay cut and then see what we have to go through because IMO, they are all overpaid !!!!

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