Woonsocket City Council President John Ward and Councilman Christopher Beauchamp had heated words with Councilman Roger Jalette over the the supplemental tax bill during Monday's work session.
The councilors cooled long enough to continue discussing possible cuts as alternatives to the supplemental tax bill. Audio of the exchange can be reviewed at Mywoonsocket.com's "In their own words" page under the title June 4, 2012 Woonsocket City CouncilWork Session Budget", at links #14, #17 and #18.
Jalette addressed the council, telling them the only solution to fixing the school department's $10 million deficit he'd heard from the majority of his fellow councilmen was increasing taxes.
"Really? You didn't hear me discuss cutting retirement benefits for healthcare, and 20 percent copay for retirees, and freezing the COLA? Did I leave the room?" Ward asked. He said they'd just spent an hour discussing those options. "And now you sit here, accusing us of sitting around talking about how we can tax our people? It's great rhetoric, but it's not real," Ward said.
Earlier in the meeting, Ward asked Finance Director Thomas Bruce how much those measures would save the city. Bruce said the co-pay and healthcare options would be about $800,000. He said he would give Ward a definite report later this week.
"Why on Earth, I still cannot figure out, why on Earth you guys have been wanting to do a supplemental tax bill in the first place," said Jalette.
The supplemental tax, a permanent 13 percent increase which could raise $6.6 million, has been stalled since Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (Democrat - District 49, Woonsocket) pulled her support for the bill authorizing it. The Woonsocket Budget Commission voted to ask the General Assembly to reconsider the bill Tuesday.
"We haven't been wanting to do it, Roger. Nobody wants to do it." Beauchamp said, "Nobody wants to do it, it Roger. None of us said, 'We want to do a supplemental tax.' You put words in people's mouths, councilman. That is not true."
Beauchamp said Jalette hadn't listened to Ward's comments on possible cuts to the city's budget when he said the other council members wanted a supplemental tax. "It's getting aggravating when you say things like that," Beauchamp said.
"Don't listen to me. You don't listen to me anyway," Jalette replied.
"No, listen to yourself, is what I'm trying to say," Beauchamp said, "Listen to yourself."
"What makes you think that I don't?" Jalette asked. The two began to speak at the same time and Ward told Beauchamp Jalette had the floor.
"You know councilman Beauchamp, I'm getting sick of you, and I'm going to turn around and I'm going to start coming after you the way you come after me," Jalette said. Ward broke in to the exchange, asking the coucilors to keep their comments on the topic of the budget.
Jalette continued, "Since we knew that we were in trouble, this council has relied on the Mayor and his staff to come up with whatever cuts that they can come up with, and take on the sole burden of this proposed budget. Not once did this council sit down and say, 'Mayor, we've had a meeting and here's how we think we should be making cuts. Not once did we offer to help the department, as a body," Jalette said.
Jalette said on the city side, the position of Economic Development Director, currently staffed by Matt Wojcik, a $70,000 line item, could be cut from the budget. On the school side, Jalette said the district could privatize their trash pickup. "Maybe they could save some money there," Jalette said.
Beauchamp said economic development, regardless of who staffs the position, is vital to the city. He cited the Highland Park Industrial Park, built decades ago. "Without Highland Park, none of us would be here," Beauchamp said, "I mean, the amount of jobs, revenue that Highland Park created, was economic development." Beauchamp said a better area for cutting the budget would be to privatize the DPW department.
Beauchamp said the Budget Commission would also consider reducing the city's homestead tax exemption. Any cut to that, he said, would be bigger than the 13 percent hike that the supplemental tax would bring. "If they cut the homestead, anything, that tax hit on a residential homeowner, like myself, and probably everybody here, is going to be far greater than 13 percent. So if you think people can't afford the 13 percent right now, which I know, a lot of people can't, get ready for something much more draconian."
"I don't want to vote for the supplemental tax but I'm cognizant of the fact that if they reduce the homestead by 5, 10 percent, it's going to be a much bigger hurt on a lot of people. So, I mean, I know its nice to say, 'Don't raise taxes. We can't afford one red cent,' but those are the things you've got to factor in," Beauchamp said.