Tiverton passes reduced budget in Financial Town Referendum

Tiverton Town Council President Denise deMedeiros watches as election workers post vote totals.

By a wide margin, Tiverton voters passed a voter-initiated alternative town budget restricting the increase on the tax levy to 0.9% rather than the 2.9% proposed by the Town Budget Committee. The unofficial vote was 1,535 (59%) for budget #2, a double-digit lead over budget #1 which received 1,066 (41%). Officials said the vote will be certified next week.

According to a document provided to voters, the new 0.9% budget reduces the tax rate to $18.99 per thousand (rather than the Budget Committee's proposed $19.38 per thousand) by cutting $126K from the school committee, $150K from the Town Council's "Future Needs" account, eliminating the Town Planner and withdrawing $360K from the General Fund, among other changes.

Supporters of both budgets had spent much of the day outside Tiverton High School, where voting was taking place. (1,526 residents voted today, compared to 1,075 who took advantage of early voting or mail ballots; the winning margins were similar in both tallies.)

Budget #2 truck and motorcycle, minus toy rifle.

There was a bit of excitement in the late afternoon when Tiverton police responded to a report that someone had a replica of a rifle on display next to a truck decorated with Budget #2 posters. A post circulated on Facebook showed an olive-drab replica of what appeared to be an M-1 propped against a motorcycle near the entrance to the polling station.

"I just brought it to get people's attention," said Town Council member Joe Sousa, saying that the police had asked him to remove it. Sousa and a group of the budget #2 supporters, including Justin Katz, who originated the petition, stood near the entrance holding signs and vocally urging voters to consider their budget as they entered the building.

"Without a doubt," one voter shouted back.

Another of the budget #2 supporters, Jim O'Dell, thought that the distribution of revaluation notices this week had an impact on voters. "It couldn't have been better for us," he said. "People knew how much they were being socked -- that's why so many people are here." He claimed that some residents had seen valuation changes in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Town Council President Denise deMedeiros, who was with a group of budget #1 supporters in the parking lot, agreed that the revaluation notice was "untimely." "It was supposed to come out a few weeks ago," she said, noting that the reval was done by a contractor and they did not have control of the timing. "If it came out tomorrow, they would have said that we did it on purpose."

School Committee chair Sally Black held a poster noting that budget #1 had been approved by the budget committee, the town council, and the school committee, and included all-day Kindergarten while holding the school budget to just a 1% increase.

"We're fighting over $78 a year on a $200,000 house," said deMedeiros. "Our budget keeps everything and doesn't take anything from the general fund." She noted the areas that budget #2 cuts included the town planner, at a time when Tiverton is confronting major issues like the plans for the industrial park and the proposed casino. It cut the allocation for legal fees in half while at the same urging the council to "play hardball" in contract negotiations. And it zeroed the "future needs" account which the council uses to cover contract increases without tipping their hand in negotiations by earmarking specific amounts.

"If it wins, we'll have to deal with it, "said deMedeiros. "We're going to have to make some cuts, and they're not going to be the cuts they suggested."

Correction: Updated to correct the spelling of the first name of the school committee chair.