How does the Town Council get to create a slush fund?
September 18, 2018
I have yet to meet a Tiverton resident who does not like the privacy, transparency and control afforded by the Financial Town Referendum. But the FTR depends on how it is administered by the Town Council.
Imagine my shock when I read the new ordinance planned by the Town Council stating: “all casino revenue shall be allocated only for the following purposes: debt service/reduction, capital development, infrastructure projects.”
At first glance, this seems innocuous; all of these items need to be paid for. But, aren’t they already covered by the town budget? So, how can these items be covered twice? And how will expenditures be split between the casino revenue and the budget? The ordinance is disturbingly silent.
It goes on to say: “the town administrator shall annually develop a preliminary proposal for allocating anticipated gaming revenue… The proposal shall be developed in the same time frame in which the preliminary … budget request is prepared…
(and) shall be submitted to the TC…for its review and approval… (and) shall be submitted to the Budget Committee for its consideration…”. So far, so good.
The ordinance continues: “The TC shall include the proposal with the budget information made available to the public, and allow for public comment during public workshops, meetings and at least one public hearing that are part of the budget process. The Town Council shall approve the final allocation of gaming revenue not later than the date scheduled for approval of the municipal budget.”
Huh? Where is the FTR in the process? In my 21 years in Tiverton, I don’t recall hearing about an ordinance used to affect budgetary matters. Where did this procedural change come from? It seems, once the Town Council rejected every one of charter changes recommended by the elected Charter Review Commission, they felt free to produce their own recommendations which appear to allow the Town Council to issue such ordinances totally independent from the FTR. Projections indicate that casino revenue will total approximately $3 million. Not exactly chump change whose disposition would be controlled outside of an FTR process which, two years ago, Tiverton residents voted in to perform exactly this function.
So, in summary, how does the Town Council get to create a slush fund using casino revenue?
Simple. They reject the charter changes proposed by the Charter Review Commission, replace them with changes that loosen the FTR process and then, without any voter participation, snatch the casino revenue to be used at their discretion. But this will happen only if Tiverton voters approve the entire slate of charter changes appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Let’s hope this letter triggers an honest and open dialogue that will empower the Tiverton voters to cast informed votes on Nov. 6.