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Cranston Taxes Rose 6 Percent in 6 Years Under Fung

Monday, March 28, 2016


Cranston Mayor Allan Fung -- will taxes be part of the 2016 campaign debate?

Taxes in Cranston rose just six percent in six years under Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, according to a GoLocalProv review.

"Mayor Fung has managed city finances as efficiently as possible. When he took over there were unfunded liabilities in the pensions. There were structural deficits in the budget. The school department was in debt," said Robert Coupe, Fung's Director of Administration.

A Modest Increase?

"But he was also able to reign in spending and hold the line on it and once we got out of that fiscal crisis, he was able to keep the tax rate stable for three straight years," said Coupe.

The median residential homeowner's property value has seen a six percent hike under his tenure. The median homeowner's property lies in the middle of the spectrum of all the residential properties in the city. It's not the average, which is the sum of all property values divided by the number of properties. But the median makes for a good representation of the average person. 

The analysis takes into account revaluations, which take place every three years. The analysis also takes into account what the median property value was and what the adopted tax rate was in a given year. That gives an accurate portrayal of what the median homeowner paid.

$228 Increase in Six Years

According to the tax assessor's office, Cranston's median residential property was worth $202,100 in 2009. That was Fung's first year in office. (That value reflected the property's value as of December 31, 2008, as per that year's revaluation.) Since the tax rate was $19.11 per thousand in 2009, the median property owner paid $3,862.12 in taxes. On a weekly basis, the median property taxpayer paid $74.27 in property taxes that year.

Six years later, the median residential house in Cranston is valued at $182,200. (The city's property values haven't recovered from The Great Recession). That's according to last year's revaluation. The current residential tax rate is $22.45. The means the median tax bill in the 2015 year was $4,090.39. Therefore median property taxpayer pays $78.66 each week in property taxes.

Thus, the total median property tax bill has increased by $228.26 over the last 6 years. That's a 5.9 percent increase--less than 1 percent each year.

Fung's Favor, or Issue of Transparency? 

Fung's 2016 opponent, Michael Sepe

The issue will likely play to Fung's favor during this year's mayoral election. It should be the state's most competitive municipal election. There are no statewide contests this year.

As Coupe explained, Fung will tell voters that prudent fiscal management and tough decisions have allowed him to keep a lid on taxes.

The issue of property taxes will likely be just one issue, albeit a major one, in the race.

His opponent, Michael Sepe, an accountant by trade, is the city's Democratic Chairman. Sepe has the backing of the Democratic establishment both city and statewide. 

Sepe, however, said that transparency is "lacking" under the Fung administration.

Reached by phone, Sepe said that while the median property tax hasn't gone up significantly, homeowners in western Cranston, where homes are pricier, have seen more significant tax hikes. 

Sepe also pointed out that increases in sewer fees have burdened homeowners under Fung's tenure, along with certain increases in license fees.

"It's not just taxes, fees have gone up," said Sepe. 

Sepe also said that he was disappointed when he went to Cranston City Hall last week and asked the assessor's office for similar data. The assessor refused to give it to him, he said.  

"I was surprised that he (the assessor) was told to not give out any information without running it by the mayor's office first," sad Sepe. "When I'm mayor, that's not going to be the case. All public information will be given out immediately."

Council Role

Cranston City Council President John Lanni, a retired auditor, took exception to the idea that all the credit should go to Fung. Lanni, a Democrat, is currently serving his third term as Cranston City Council President.

"There's no way the mayor can take all the credit for our budget management when it's the city council that has final say over the adoption of the budget," said Lanni.

"I believe we, on the city council, have done a very good job examining the mayor's budget proposals. In some of those years, we have scaled back his budgets to lessen the tax increases." 

Lanni said that the city council expects to get the mayor's latest budget proposal within the next week or so. Asked about the prospect of a tax increase this year, Lanni laughed. 

"By hook or by crook there's not going to be a tax increase this year," said Lanni. "It's an election year."

Not So Fast, Says Minority Leader 

Republican City Council Majority Leader Michael W. Favicchio disagreed with Lanni's contention that large portions of the credit for Cranston's budget management should go to the city council. He said the council deserves some credit, but that it pales in comparison to that of the mayor's administration. Favicchio also said that the administration has done an excellent job managing the budget and keeping taxes under control.

"The administration is full-time, and the city council is part-time position. so as far as who does most of the work on the budget, I think most of the credit has to go to the administration," said Favicchio. 

"The administration has made budget adoption pretty easy on the city council. They proposed three straight years of no tax increases in the budget and a small tax increase last year."

And if roles were reversed and there was a Democrat Mayor and he were council president instead of minority leader, would he be singing the same tune?

"It's not a partisan issue. It's hard to argue that a part-time body should get half the credit for the job of full-time employees," he said. 


Related Slideshow: Surprise Winners and Losers for 2014 Election

The 2014 Election cycle proved to be one of the most exciting and expensive - take a look at the winners and losers.

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Gina Raimondo

Smashed the Glass Ceiling

Raimondo is the perfect candidate. Local girl, brilliant education and success in the private sector. Next up, she was elected General Treasurer in 2010 and made history and caused a major uproar with the most powerful unions by leading the charge for pension reform.

In the Democratic primary, Raimondo raised a tremendous war chest and caught a big break when Bob Walsh, RI National Education Association's boss, and other union officials put Clay Pell up to beat Raimondo and it had the opposite effect. It split the anti-Raimondo vote between Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Pell.

Now, Raimondo has made Rhode Island history. Where Betty Leonard and Myrth York failed, Raimondo has smashed the glass ceiling.

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Democratic Party

Slapped the GOP Silly

It was a beat down. A throw in the towel. A Brady vs Manning moment.

Despite 80% of Rhode Islanders believing that the state is on the "wrong track" - Rhode Islanders gave the Democratic Party a series of sweeping victories.

All four members of the Congressional Delegation are Democrats - three returned by more than 20% margin Tuesday night.  All five members of the General Officers are now Democrats. The Providence Mayor is a Democrat with the election of Jorge Elorza and the GOP barely made an impact on the Democrats overwhelming control on the General Assembly.

How bad was it for the GOP? Fung only received 36% of the vote, Taylor only 33% in her effort for Lt. Governor, John Carlevale who barely ran a campaign scored 39% of the popular vote and Hodgson only captured 43% of the vote for AG. The GOP did not run a candidate for General Treasurer. 

Game, set, match to the Democrats.

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Jorge Elorza

Out of Nowhere

He never had run for office before. He started the effort with zero name recognition. He fought his way through a crowded Democratic primary and ultimately defeated one of America’s most celebrated and infamous politicians - Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr.

Elorza is now faced with a city with tremendous challenges and the need for on the job training at record speed. 

He ran nearly flawless campaigns in the primary and the general - now the hard part - he has to govern.

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East Side of Providence

King Maker

Elorza's victory by 3375 votes was fueled by an overwhelming advantage on the East Side, where he tallied 4758 more votes than the former mayor - Cianci - out of 9263 total votes, a remarkable advantage of 52.4%.

His 74.7% to 22.3% East Side advantage bested huge pluralities there in previous elections. Elorza actually bettered his East Side advantage he garnered against Michael Solomon there in his September Democratic primary victory, 68.25% to 25.6%. The East Side, which started Buddy Cianci's political career by supporting him in his initial mayoral run in 1974, has probably ended it with this overwhelming rejection of his candidacy. 

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Robert Healey

Moderate Party Disrupter

Imagine this: a multi-timed failed candidate who raises no money and he organizes no campaign, yet he wins 22% of the vote.  The winner, Gina Raimondo only won only 40% of the total vote. Imagine if he tried.

Healey may have been the skunk at the picnic for Fung as the combined Fung and Healey vote received 58% of the vote. Raimondo's 40% popular vote is just a tad higher than what Chafee won with in 2010.

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McKee and Ed Reform

Beat the Unions (Twice)

Dan McKee has been the champion of education reform. He has looked the most powerful union - NEARI - squarely in the eyes and not blinked. While the unions went all in to beat him in the primary he split the three-way and won.

Then, in the General Election, the unions threw their support at Catherine Taylor, a Republican and he defeated her soundly (54% to 33%). Now, McKee can push a focused education reform agenda in 2015 through the General Assembly.

Now, neither the Governor nor the Lt. Governor owe anything to the public sector education unions.

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Joe Paolino

Sweep of a Double Header

The former Mayor and Ambassador to Malta had another bad election day. Paolino not only lost on the ballot question in Newport that would have made his investment group’s purchase of Newport Grand a reality, but Paolino also saw former mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci lose his comeback bid to regain Providence’s top job.

Paolino’s group promised to invest millions into the Newport Grand facility and produced a plan that would have saved the jobs at the facility that are now in jeopardy, and would have also added at least $1 million per year into Newport’s municipal coffers. But voters, many of which were fatigued from having been asked to approve table games at Newport Grand just two years prior, rejected the measure. Scores of Newport residents have long resented the facility being located in their backyard and won’t shed much of a tear if the facility were to shut down.

Paolino and Cianci started off as political rivals, but have developed a close friendship over the last 10-15 years beginning when Cianci ran into trouble with the federal government. To a large extent, it was Paolino who convinced and lobbied Cianci to throw his hat into the mayoral ring this year.

These losses add to a painful run of elections for Paolino over the span of the last 3 decades. Paolino’s last electoral victory was in 1986, when he was reelected Mayor of Providence. Since then, he ran for Governor in 1990, but was defeated by former Governor Bruce Sundlun. In 2002, he ran for Mayor of Providence as an independent, but was defeated by David Cicilline. He flirted with running for Mayor in 2010, but decided against it.

Make no mistake about it: with these two losses, this election cycle was another loss for Paolino.

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Ken Block and the Moderate Party

Reform Party Becomes Dems Best Friend

When Moderate Party founder Ken Block envisioned the entity, he saw it as a mechanism to reform Rhode Island’s government. Four years later, Block will be the first to admit that his goal has been an unmitigated and dismal failure. If anything, his dream has turned into a nightmare.

In 2010, it’s almost a certainty that Ken Block’s candidacy as the Moderate Party Candidate doomed Republican John Robitaille’s chances to become Governor. Both Block and Robitaille were running on reform agendas.

This year, Robert Healey, as the Moderate Party’s standard bearer, won more than 22 percent of the vote this year—effectively giving the Governor’s office to Gina Raimondo. That means, in two consecutive gubernatorial elections, the moderate party has effectively stopped the Republican Party, which aims to reform state government, from winning the election.

Going forward, reform-minded citizens in Rhode Island need to gather together around one party with one standard-bearer if they’re going to enact the reforms they believe will improve the state.

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Constitutional Convention

Message Missing

The Constitutional Convention was promoted by good government advocates as a method for the state to enact good government reforms that could fundamentally change the way Rhode Island ‘s government functions.  

A Constitutional Convention would have been convened after a special election was held in each of the state’s 75 representative districts. Each district would select one individual to represent the portion of the population at the convention. The representatives would then have recommended changes to the constitution, which would have then become questions before the voters. If the voters approved the changes, the constitution would have been amended.

The advocates argued that the convention could have been a good mechanism to reform government by giving the governor’s office more power in the form of a line-item veto. The Convention would have also been a mechanism to implement term limits on state legislators as well as an opportunity to implement ethics reform that would have held state legislators to the same ethical standards as every other statewide and local office holder.

Opponents claimed that the Convention could have have been easily hijacked by outside special interest groups that could have used the Convention to limit individual freedoms such as women’s and minority rights.

In the end, the opponents won out, but it remains unclear if the ballot question failed due to voter opposition to the matter or simple confusion. If voters did not really understand what was really at stake with respect to a Convention, they may very well have simply rejected it offhand.

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See Democrats - Winners

It’s a fair question to ask what circumstances it would take for the Rhode Island Republican Party to make any gains in the state of Rhode Island.

In a year that represented a Republican wave nationally, in which the Republicans took control of the United States Senate, and the increased its margin in the House of Representatives, the Rhode Island GOP failed to win any statewide seats, and also failed to make significant gains in the state legislature.

Unfortunately for the GOP, many analysts believed the 2014 election cycle held significant promise for the GOP both the top of the ticket as well as the in the legislature. Neither became a reality for the Republicans.

As much as good government folks say that the state government should have a functioning two party system, it’s difficult to see when and how that dream could actually become a reality at this point given this year’s electoral disappointment.

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National Education Association

From First to Worst

Despite the fact that the Democratic Party scored huge victories, the 2014 elections will go down as a painful election cycle for the Rhode Island National Education Association.

That’s because the two state top state office holders, Governor-elect Gina Raimondo and Lieutenant Governor-elect Daniel McKee are both known as a pension reformer and an education reformer/charter school advocate respectively. Those two positions are probably the two biggest affronts to the NEA’s statewide agenda. Pension reform, spearheaded by Raimondo, saw pension benefits for current and even retired teachers slashed. Charter schools, and the education reform they represent, will likely decrease NEA’s ranks because charter school teachers are typically not unionized.

To a large extent, the NEA shot itself in the foot this election cycle by overplaying its hand. In the Democratic Primary, the NEA refused to back Providence Mayor Angel Taveras because he supported charter schools. They then recruited Clay Pell, the grandson of former Senator Claiborne Pell to run in the Democratic Primary. Pell split the public sector union vote with Taveras and gave Raimondo the opening she needed to prevail in the election.

After weeks of deliberation following the Democratic Primary, the NEA decided to back Raimondo in the Governor’s race, but astute political observers knew the endorsement was, at best, half-hearted. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung had already said he wanted to see Rhode Island become a “right to work” state, meaning union members wouldn’t be forced to join a union of they didn’t so choose. That left the union with little choice but to begrudgingly back Raimondo.

The NEA however passed on endorsing McKee, instead backing Republican Catherine Taylor for Lieutenant Governor. Taylor lost the election by a stunning margin of almost 20 percent. That question will likely have political observers wondering if the NEA’s clout has diminished.


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