Homestead Exemption May Be Cut

The state-appointed Budget Commission approved Woonsocket's $122-million budget proposal, but continues to look for cuts and more revenue. Public safety vacancies are left unfilled.

Woonsocket has not escaped the possibility of a property tax hike, and homeowners could see the biggest increase, if the Budget Commission follows through on ideas discussed Thursday afternoon.

One item on the table: a phase-out of the city's homestead exemption, a program that reduces tax bills for homeowners.

"It won't disappear in one fell swoop," City Assessor Christopher Celeste said after the meeting. "Right now it's 42 percent, and that would kill people."

The five-member budget commission, appointed by the state earlier this month to take over city finances, must find ways to raise revenue and reduce spending in an effort to balance the city's books and avoid bankruptcy. They were 
appointed to take the reins after state reps. Jon Brien and Lisa Baldelli-Hunt , which would have spread tax hikes to commericial property owners and landlords as well.

At Thursday's City Hall meeting, the commission reviewed how much could be raised by reducing the homestead exemption, a move that has been used in East Providence, another cash-strapped community. The committee considered a reduction of 3 percent a year.

"The homestead exemption takes away a lot from our total assessed value," Celeste said. "It's reduced by 24 percent."

The commission took no vote on the issue Thursday, but expects to take it up again in the weeks ahead.

Mayor Leo Fontaine, also a commission member, said after the meeting some changes to the homestead exemption are a real possibility.

"I don't know if it would ever be phased out completely," he said. "But it is being reviewed, and there may be some adjustment."

Commission members also discussed the likelihood a judge will force the city to raise taxes, even without a bankruptcy filing. City Council President John Ward, who is also a commission member, said a vendor who is owned a large amount by the city could seek a court order demanding payment. If that happens, the city could be ordered to hike taxes. 

Fontaine said the school department could go the same route. "The state has put us in this position," the mayor said. "Then they leave the taxpayers to clean up the mess."

Both Ward and Fontaine expressed reluctance to see more cuts to city departments. Fontaine said there have already been deep cuts throughout the city, and going further will save no more than a few hundred thousand dollars.

"I don't see where making those cuts will solve our problem," he said.

"If you simply want to exist, this budget works," Ward said. "If you want a city that young people want to move to, then it doesn't." 

The commission also voted unanimously to give first approval to a $122 million proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget still faces a second vote. Commission members are considering delaying final approval, instead adopting a provisional budget by the June 29 deadline, when tax bills must be sent out.

"How do you vote on a budget if you don't think it's accurate?" asked commission member Dina Dutremble, a former business manager for the Woonsocket Education Department. "The school budget to me is still full of holes. There are all kinds of things that have to be resolved."

The $122-million budget proposal includes $62 million for schools, and some commission members say they are certain that is not enough, as that figure has been around $67 million for several years. "That $67 million is a bare bones budget," Fontaine said. "They're not running Club Med."

The Budget Commission also indicated it is wary of filling slots in departments that are now short-staffed, even after public safety officials said there may be risks involved. Police Chief Thomas Carey told the commission his department now has 90 officers, five short of the ideal number. He added the number of vacancies could grow higher, as he anticipates seeing a number of officers to reach retirement age in the months ahead.

The chief asked the commission to approve sending five new recruits to the state police academy, which begins training a new class in July. There won't be another class until January, and there may not be enough room for all the Woonsocket recruits then, he said.

"If people want to be police officers," replied commission member Peder Shaefer, "why don't they pay their own tuition?"

Fire Chief Gary Lataille also raised the issue of vacancies. He said the Fire Department must be staffed by 26 firefighters continuously, and that he must pay his staff overtime to meet that requirement.

Shaefer said the city is saving money by paying overtime because hiring more firefighters would mean spending money on benefits. Shaefer suggested the number of firefighters required to man the city's two ladder trucks be reduced from three to two. 

"When I became chief we had 133 firefighters, and we're down to 117 now," Lataille told him. "The union has already conceded 10 percent of their positions. All I can say is, good luck to you. I mean that."

"I would ask both chiefs, if we say no more manpower for now, to develop a plan we can present to the unions," Sequino answered. "You can make our job a whole lot easier if you do it first."

Sequino said the discussion would be continued to the commission meeting scheduled for June 24.

la_mouffette June 25, 2012 at 03:28 AM
lol, I can't resist! ^_^ forgive me, Jerkface! That is a misuse of a semicolon. A semicolon is used to attach two related but independent clauses; each clause must be a complete sentence. What you wanted was a colon. Probably just a typo... Also, you misused "i.e." Id Est should only be used when there is one single best example for what is being discussed. It makes what is being discussed more clear. "I'm being schooled on grammar by a jerk on Patch, i.e. La_Moufette!" You actually meant to use e.g., which is used for general examples... but I can't honestly fault you for that. I forget and make that mistake, too.
la_mouffette June 25, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Aaaand, here we go.....
Rob Borkowski (Editor) June 25, 2012 at 11:57 AM
OK, folks - Please, stay on-topic and keep it civil. We all know the rules, but more importantly, these issues deserve discussion, examination, and polite argument.
Jerkface June 25, 2012 at 12:32 PM
La_mouffette, je trouve vos corrections à la fois éducatif et de susciter
English first June 25, 2012 at 12:57 PM
I am enjoying the grammar lessons. I have often thought that there should be a section on the Patch that discusses grammar, spelling, punctuation and other common mistakes. What does any of this have to do with the Homestead Exemption?
Pineapple June 25, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Hi. I'm a pineapple. I was extremely elated to see the support of pineapple lovers here in this discussion. But, now it seems any mention of me has been removed. How quickly attitudes cam turn on something or someone.
Smiling Joe June 25, 2012 at 01:58 PM
As an expert commentary analyst, I have determined that all of the posts relate directly to the Homestead Exemption. Trust me, I am an expert. I am also a professional smile examiner and I must confess, Rob B., you have a superb smile. May you all have a glorious day filled with love, happiness, and Ben & Jerry's frozen Greek yogurt (try the banana and peanut butter).
Smart one June 25, 2012 at 03:48 PM
As soon as anyone discusses anything related to city firefighters, they come on in droves with commentary that shows the mental capacity of 10-year-olds. People definitely make inappropriate comments about your jobs on Patch - but don't think the public doesn't notice when you waste HOURS returning the favor under immature aliases. Also, the numbers in this article referencing the police department are wrong.
Plato Jr. June 25, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Smart One knows precisely who comments. He knows through his advanced application of logical processes. Using this logic, he/she determines that if someone writes nonsensically, attempts humor, seeks facts, or supports firefighters, that person must be a firefighter. Socrates would feel such pride.
Smart one June 25, 2012 at 06:19 PM
On the contrary Plato, there are many who have commented in support of firefighters who do not fight fires themselves. But all the names that regular Patch users have never seen before that have suddenly appeared on any article where there's a debate about the job or the perks that go with it? You may find my power of deductions flawed but you can trust that I'm not the only reader reaching this conclusion.
Sly June 25, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Nothing like owning a home in Woonsocket,open the wallet for less servives.Budget Commission is a waste of time.They are against us as is everyone else.Fontaine and WARD I WILL BE HAPPY TO SEE GO.ITS UNFORTUNATE ITS NOT SOONER.Ward on Newsmakers what a joke.Stay in Lincoln thats where you belong. When I hear is voice my stomach turns.What lies are next.Cut the fireman there's not many buildings or mills anymore in Woon.anyway.
Tommy Tutone June 25, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Sounds to me like there's two firemen too many,if i get hauled away on a "city on the move" rescue,i'll try to keep at least one hand on my wallet.
It's obvious what I do for a living June 25, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Smart one, this article has nothing to do with a debate about ANYONE's job. You are for not to be such a smaht one. The debate here is about the homestead exemption. Is it not? Oh, and I know for absolute fact that there are NO police men that comment here. You ARE smaht. It's definitely ALL firemen. You can tell. And there is NO way that teachers post here as well. You can tell.
It's obvious what I do for a living June 25, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Don't forget to call in to Larry's show today and talk more nonsense. You are a very bright individual with all the answers.
la_mouffette June 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Absolument enchante de vous aider et susciter, monsieur ;)
la_mouffette June 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Nothing whatsoever. Lead us back into the fray, English!
Smart one June 25, 2012 at 10:58 PM
"on any article where there's a debate about the job or the perks that go with it?" to quote my smart self. Dead in the water said we're paying FFs OT to clean toilets and ya haven't stopped since. And I'm sure this will continue but I'm afraid I don't have the kind of time that I'm sure some will dedicate to the debate. I have just noticed that every article on Patch that gets more than 100 comments does so because someone insults firefighters and then 10-20 new names appear to hurl insults, never to return. Enjoy pretending I'm wrong AND having the free time to respond with sarcasm!
Lisa June 26, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Actually, Russell, I was speaking about a business tax for the landlords. Not necessarily a full-fledged commercial rate, perhaps a small business rate of sorts. The people who rent the larger units aren't different as long as they are productive enough to pay their own way. The landlord owners are different, since they are making a profit. If landlords aren't making a profit they must be running missions out of the kindness of their hearts; very commendable, but highly unlikely. Businesses should be taxed at a higher rate compared to homeowners.
Smart one June 26, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Look here, buck-o. I got mad skill at debating and verbalating. I'm gonna school you and rule you. Werd?
Smart one June 26, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Je suis tout à fait extraordinaire. Je sais tout. Et j'ai toutes les réponses aux problèmes de la vie. 
dead in the water June 26, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Smart one, see you at the Sexy Saturday Dance Party! I'm trying to talk russ into going too! Soooooo much fun!
Smart one June 27, 2012 at 01:59 AM
This is all so stressful. I'm going to blow some steam off at the Sexy Saturday Dance Party!!! Let's all meet there and dance this stress out, knock a few back and solve the city's problems through the art of dance!
la_mouffette June 28, 2012 at 12:50 AM
....do you ever get the feeling that half the posts on patch are all made by one under-employed dude with emotional issues?
la_mouffette June 28, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Un homme extraordinaire qui a besoin de logiciels de traduction? Ah, quelle vraiment dommage... Bing translator can't help you with double-entendres. Makes a conversation in another language much harder to follow!
The Pontiff June 28, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Sorry,it's me. I can't help myself,I am starving for attention. And I do love pineapples
Mom's basement June 28, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Notice how I don't put a space after every comma? It's not difficult to see who I am,right? Oh,and you're spot on about the emotional issues,lol!
TaxIsland June 28, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Great Point !!!
Tommy Tutone June 29, 2012 at 01:55 AM
"Ah, what really damage..."??? Il semble que votre traducteur PUE aussi, skunk. 
Tommy Tutone June 29, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Hey skunk,this is gettin pretty confusing,eh?
la_mouffette August 26, 2012 at 03:33 AM
lol, dommage will translate literally as "damage" if you don't speak French and are relying on translation software, or a dictionary. Quelle vraiment dommage means "It's a real shame" in a sympathetic tone. Thanks, Tommy.


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