City Council OKs 13 Percent Tax Hike

Approval by state could come today, Council votes for fiscal investigation.

The City Council gave their approval Monday night to a plan to raise city taxes by 13 percent this year, a move many city officials believe will save Woonsocket from bankruptcy.
The measure passed by six to one, with Roger Jalette casting the sole negative vote. About 150 people attended the meeting in . Prior to the vote, the Council endured a verbal water boarding from irate residents, but proceedings were far less rancorous than some recent public gatherings.

Monday night's action actually asks the state legislature to allow Woonsocket to send out supplemental tax notices, a procedure required by state law. Legislators could act on the measure as early as today. "I expect that in the morning the mayor will ask the city's state representatives and state senators to bring this to the floor immediately," said City Council President John Ward.

The tax vote will allow the city to continue paying employees and vendors through the months and weeks ahead while officials look for ways to plug a projected budget shortfall of $10 million. While it could take weeks or months to collect tax payments, the city will be able to generate immediate revenue by issuing tax anticipation notes.

Jalette said he opposed the measure because he would prefer to see the city declare bankruptcy, and turn over control of financial affairs to a state-appointed receiver. He noted a receiver, whose actions would only require approval from federal judge, could squeeze more concessions from city and school department unions.

"I would like to see a receiver come in and do some of the things elected officials can't do," Jalette said. "If a receiver comes in, property values will probably go down a little more, but so what, they're already near the bottom."

He also took a swipe at the . "One reason I support receivership is that four out of the last five years they've had a deficit," he said. "I don't trust them." 

Issuing a supplemental tax bill won't necessarily save the city from bankruptcy. Appointing a receiver is just one of several options the state has should the city's plan fall flat. The governor could name an overseer, a person who would review city finances and spending and make recommendations only. He could also set up an oversight committee consisting of the mayor, the City Council president, and three state appointees, which would have more authority.

Several city officials told the crowd there's little chance a bankruptcy receiver could avoid raising taxes, and they predicted his hikes would be higher than 13 percent. They also predicted bankruptcy would lead to other negative consequences, such as a drop in property values.

"If we don't solve this problem ourselves, it will be solved for us, and that may not be as beneficial for us as we'd like it to be," said Mayor Leo Fontaine. "If we turn our fate over to a receiver, you could receive a tax bill much larger than this."

"There will be a supplemental tax bill, whether it comes from this vote tonight, or from a receiver," added Council member Albert Brien. "Those communities that have gone into bankruptcy have seen their property values plummet. Bankruptcy is no panacea."

While they approved the tax hike, Council members also voiced reservations.

Ward said he feared a receiver would go too far when cutting benefits or pay to current or former city employees. "In Central Falls retirees have had their benefits slashed, while in Smithfield they have not," he said. "Should they have to suffer because they worked for a poor community? This is creating class warfare."

At the same time, he warned the supplemental tax bill will be a burden as well. "It could be a disaster for some of our elderly and our poor," he said.
Council member Daniel Gendron predicted there will still be deep cuts in city and school department budgets. "I view this as one component for getting us out of the situation we're in," he said. "Without the other elements of the total package we'll end in failure."

Council member Christopher Beauchamp said he feared a receiver might shrink the Homestead Exemption, a program that gives homeowners a reduction on their property taxes. He noted the program saves his own family about  $2,000 a year. "If a receiver comes in and says, Mr. Beauchamp, the Homestead Exemption is being cut to 20 percent, then the keys to my house will be in his hands," he said. 

Council member Marc Dubois' comments met with a few derisive snickers. "I will be supporting the supplemental tax bill," he said. "But I will never support another."

In other business, the Council voted to launch an investigation into the city's current fiscal problems, which were caused by two years of unforeseen school department budget shortfalls. The possibility of an inquiry has been controversial subject in Woonsocket in recent weeks. Last week the School Committee considered asking for a State Police probe; the proposal was dropped when three members voted no.

Every Council member voted in favor an investigation, with the exception of Dubois, who abstained. Dubois explained that he could not act on the measure because last year he served as School Committee chairman, and wished to avoid a conflict of interest. He added that while he abstained, he supports the spirit of the measure. "I was disappointed when the School Committee voted not to call in the State Police," he said. "I want my name cleared."

The City Council has subpeona power, and will conduct the investigation by using that authority to call on past and present school department employees to answer questions. School Committee members may be questioned as well. The Council plans to hire a lawyer to assist with the probe, and a stenographer to record the proceedings. The cost is expected to be less than $10,000, and will be paid using money from the Council's legal expenses fund.

Ward, who proposed the measure, said he doubts there will be any criminal charges resulting from the probe. He said he believes the shortfall resulted from state cuts to funds and "inadequate accounting."

"This will be an opportunity to bring everything out in the open and clear up misconceptions," Gendron added. "I don't think anyone believes someone walked away with the $10 million."

"I think this is superfluous, but it's necessary to quiet the suspicion and innuendo," said Brien.

Woonsocket voters will also get a chance to change the city's charter. The City Council gave the nod to putting two questions on the November ballot.

The first question would put an end to the elected School Committee, and replace it with a panel appointed by the mayor. Appointees would be required to attend state-run seminars on education policy. Last year the City Council shot down a plan to put a similar measure on the ballot, but Monday night some members said they'd had second thoughts. Only Dubois voted against the measure.

"If they're not a good committee, then the mayor will take the heat," said Jalette. "And so will the City Council for approving his appointments."

"It's very evident the current committee has no one with a CPA background who could have foreseen the problems we're having now," Beauchamp added.

The second question would give voters the power to remove elected offials from office before they finish their term. Ten percent of city voters would first have to sign a petition to put a recall measure on the ballot. The proposal passed by a unanimous vote.

Dagny Taggart April 10, 2012 at 03:40 PM
robert lamarre jr.... DIDN'T SEE A TAX INCREASE BEFORE THIS ADMINISTRATION?????? What rock have you been hiding under? Our taxes have increased 86% in the 5 years before this increase...with this increase our taxes will be almost 4 times what they were in 2006 and we get less services. So if "the sky is falling" like you are claiming then so be it , the sky is falling....the bad news is that taxes are not. And as far as "reelecting the same people" you are wrong, I did not vote for a single incumbent. AND even though Mayor Fontaine ran unchallenged I did not vote for him either. Please do not make such broad sweeping accusations and chastise those who are trying to get to the bottom of this mess, fix it and hopefully get the city back on track. I believe that your comment to "Meesh" was unnecessary since the tone of your comment/question seemed biting and rhetorical and she was responding to that aspect of it, I believe. As far as "moving out", many of us would like to but some have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in properties that are now worth less than half of that investment. It takes a person who still has a great deal of money in the bank to walk away from a loss that big. Many of us are getting older, with children in college and don't have that luxury. I am still hoping many will walk away, it will serve the Mayor, the City and all those mismanaging $$ in the City right.
Dagny Taggart April 10, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Oh, "The Chorus".......:-) I can't wait to hear the response to that comment. *shudders covering eyes*.
DonQ April 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I want to file a class action lawsuit to get a refund for the cost of robert's education. Actually, when he wrote that he went to WHS, I'm surprised the school committee didn't file charges for defamation of character.
Meesh April 10, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Dagny, thank you for your support and Mr. Lamarre, who is John Galt?
John R Dionne April 10, 2012 at 10:32 PM
How anyone could conclude from my thoughts that I blame the President for the school department problem is beyond me. Also my name is Dionne not Dion, Bobby. John R Dionne
Jerry April 11, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Mr. Lamarre, are the taxpayers really supporting you, or did you move here from Central Falls? You never offer any solid advice, just stupid, negative comments from people that make sense..
Dagny Taggart April 11, 2012 at 11:23 AM
John, I never believed it for a minute. :-)
Dagny Taggart April 11, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Jerry, I think robert larmarre, jr. offers many of us a glimpse into the "other perspective". I , for one, would never imagine thinking of things the way he does but perhaps just knowing that some folks think that way can help many of us to approach solutions in a way that can be explained to help them understand why we need to "fix" the problem and why it actually exists. :-) Just trying to find the "silver lining".
Novan for Life April 11, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I think most of the citizenes feel the same way i do you don't want to hear it you all shove us aside and continue to complain nobody on here has offered anything that would help the city. Jerry are you done lets move on, thats my opinion you don't like don't read it
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 12:22 AM
robert lamarre jr. Please read through the comments again. People have offered some viable ideas. Now I will no longer stand up for your comments. Clearly, you don't read what others have to offer.
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 12:31 AM
John commented on the article City Council OKs 13 Percent Tax Hike "Did you look into student population within the those cities or towns? How about students with special needs who cost much more to educate?" My response is..... that is STATE and FEDERAL funds that respond to this need. All states have kids with special needs. I know because I lived in a town that I paid extra taxes in for a great school credit ( #2) in the state, which within 5 years of moving there was on the verge of losing it's accreditation. I ended up paying extra to send my kids to private schools , while paying huge taxes, because I needed to make sure that my kids could get into the colleges of their choice. When I went to the Superintendent of Schools and asked why my kids were not being challenged in school and why the programs for the kids at "the other end of the spectrum" had been cut...he said "because we get more money for the special needs kids" ....meaning my kids were in no way "special"..WOW, just WOW. So....in short, don't cry foul for funding in that area. Please, those who are on the other end get NOTHING. And yes, this is Rhode Island, and I do not begrudge ANY child the right to education, NO CHILD should be punished at the hand of the state or the CITY, but guess what....they are. Our family has done without many things in order to get our child the best education. No whining. Just get it done. We didn't get ANY help.
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 12:37 AM
CB11 commented on the article City Council OKs 13 Percent Tax Hike "Ron - you got that right! Having been FORCED to be in a Union for almost 19 years, I know alllllll the scare tactics, bullying and LIES they use on their members to keep them inline! The stories I could tell!" CB 11, In response I have to say that the first time I was attacked by a union was when we moved to Rhode Island. When they asked me to join I declined.....guess what, I was still required to pay union dues ALL the time. So, clearly, I had no rights. Sad, very sad....left a very bad taste in my mouth for unions. As does the quality of the work and them holding people "hostage". View the updated article and reply to the comment.
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM
CB11 commented on the article City Council OKs 13 Percent Tax Hike "Ron - you got that right! Having been FORCED to be in a Union for almost 19 years, I know alllllll the scare tactics, bullying and LIES they use on their members to keep them inline! The stories I could tell!" Dear CB11, I was asked to join a union when we moved to RI and I went to work for AT&T. I decided not to join....guess what, they still took the dues out of my paycheck....seems you can't win although there have been some states that have taken this into hand and won....we should emulate them. View the updated article and reply to the comment.
Meesh April 12, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Dagny...I am in a union and I DO NOT want to be in one. I am all for a Right to Work state here in RI. Unfortunately that will never happen because of the ties to politicians....I could tell stories too but it raises my blood pressure even more than it already is!!
Meesh April 12, 2012 at 01:15 AM
You and I seem to have a lot in common with our views on issues. I am appalled with the treatment of gifted children in school. I was in AP classes in high school and because I don't have children, I don't even know if AP classes exist anmore but it seems like almost every student has an IEP. Why should resources be denied to the best and the brightest while those who don't even try get rewarded? This is a sad state of affairs.
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Meesh, I hear you loud and clear but if the Governor of Wisconsin ( a much bigger state) can do it than it can be done in Rhode Island. It takes the will of the people. Glad to hear we are kindred spirits.
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Meesh, I hear you loud and clear but if the Governor of Wisconsin ( a much bigger state) can do it than it can be done in Rhode Island. It takes the will of the people. Glad to hear we are kindred spirits. On the subject of kids with "special needs" it is sad that the state, as many do, only considers "special" to mean one end and not the other. It wasn't always this way, there are many of the kids on the "unchallenged" side that drop out of school, get into drugs, never meet their expectations because no one cares enough to acknowledge them, challenge them or appreciate them. Life is not all "black and white"....there is a broad range in the spectrum that should be appreciated and often times the ones on one end of the spectrum would love to reach out to the ones on the other end....were they only given the chance. But just like at the top of a mountain peak , the depths of the valley hold many opportunities to be fall off or not be heard. All children are "special". Just my opinion. We should offer all of them what they need to flourish.
Meesh April 12, 2012 at 10:19 AM
Well said!
CB11 April 12, 2012 at 03:40 PM
At the very least, Public Unions should not be able to contribute or endorse ANY political candidate - their income is paid with taxpayer money - Democratic, Republican, Independent .... they should not be able to funnel it towards one particular party. Either that - or they should have to give equal amounts to all candidates. Meesh - I feel for ya! I know just where you are and it's so frustrating to be the voice of reason in a sea of lemmings!
Dagny Taggart April 12, 2012 at 04:51 PM
CB11, Why has this been allowed for so long? Why are unions allowed to endorse a candidate when their income is assured by the taxpayers dollars? This is the purest form of hypocrisy and conflict of interest. I do love the imagery of the lemmings.....because lemmings, and I quote; " Every three or four years, their population drops to near extinction only to skyrocket again, but the ebb and flow is a result of migration in large groups, which can include jumping off cliffs into the water and swimming great distances to the point of exhaustion" Which means if we can get a 3-4 year window in there to change things around we should be in good shape to "control the population".
CB11 April 12, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I have no idea why it's allowed - half of the General Assembly is in bed with the Unions, so no surprise they always side with them. My real question is why do we have to deal with the public Unions at all? What state law says these workers HAVE to be Unionized? Seems to me that Union workers are contracted - why, at the end of the contract are we automatically committed to continuing service with them? Why can't we just say, "Thanks, but we find your services too expensive and we have decided to go elsewhere" ? Oh sure - they'd picket and make a fuss - but who cares? There are so many people needing jobs that would be willing to do them for market-based wages instead of inflated Union ones. Benfits in the Private sector are just as good (if not better in some cases) I can't find anyone who will answer that basic question: What dictates that we have to use Union labor? Is there something in our Constituion that mandates it? And another thing - why are we saddled with paying out any of their benefits? Shouldn't that be taken care of by their Union? Seems to me, they should be the ones responsible for their members' health care, pensions, etc., not us! Becoming a RIGHT TO WORK state is the only way out I can see of this mess!
John Ward April 12, 2012 at 10:44 PM
300 comments on one article. Congratulations to all.
Andre Genereux April 13, 2012 at 11:43 AM
We are about to get hit with a tax bill, or rather BILLS, that MAY cover about half of the deficit if EVERYONE pays the tax. IF the unions join and take a 10% pay cut immediately that will close more of the gap. The problem is, we are NOT balancing NEXT fiscal years budget, this is all for past problems. Without a rapid overhaul in spending, Woonsocket will be in the same hole in a short time. Bankruptcy, receivership, state control look to be in our future unless wholesale changes are instituted sharply and rapidly and fiscal year 2013 about to open. May God Bless Woonsocket and her taxpayers, they old saying is that every cloud has a silver lining, I have been looking for that lining.
Doctor April 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Thanks for following this blog John and probably now you are aware that action on the part of the City must start. First thing I would suggest is to combine departments into a single entity such as water, sewer, parks and highway into one public works department eliminating any duplicate functions or responsibilities. Same can be done with public safety. combine fire, police, EMA and dispatch into one department. The city needs to downsize to save money. Entry 301.
DonQ April 13, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Excellent suggestions Doctor. The only way we are going to be able to dig ourselves out of this hole is to start thinking about new ways to cut expenses. Consolidating functions and eliminating duplicate positions is a great way to start.
CB11 April 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Your suggestion to consolidate makes alot of sense and is what we really need to do in order to save money. Unfortunately, it will never happen because there's one thing all those entities you listed have in common: Unions. Unions strive on splitting up work duties to get the most people they can on their doles. Even worse, you are talking about entities with different Unions so I don't see any type of "meeting of the minds" here. I'm not trying to be pessimistic - it's the reality of it. To do what we really need to do, we must first become a Right To Work State and take the power away from those who are bleeding us dry.
Novan for Life April 13, 2012 at 07:03 PM
i really feel children with IEP's should be getting alot more help than what they are recieving!!! I have a child with an IEP and don't wanna go there, the special ed department has alot of work to do or stay more on top of what goes in the schools. i've seen them slip through the cracks and it's to bad that these children suffer for it!!! As for the IEP I believe that if a child has one it is very necessary for them to get the help they need and if a child with an IEP gets put in a regular ed class it's worse for these kids the the regular ed teachers alot of them don't wanna hear about. I take full offense that people putting down "CHILDREN" with IEP'S!!!!! DEE L. (this is not robert jr)
John Larrabee April 30, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Maybe the woman is simply old and has some bad days when she cannot walk the dog, so she lets it run free.
John Larrabee April 30, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Gee, maybe it's because the typical family includes four people (two parents, two kids) but receives only one property tax bill. You've got to be pretty thick.
Russell Archambault May 09, 2012 at 10:06 PM
mr. dionne. I cant believe that you cannot understand someone concluding anything about what you speak of on your show or write about on this site. With your years of experience, wouldnt you have learned yet? god bless you


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