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Public Budget Hearings Begin Tonight; Chamber Opposes Chafee Tax Plan

Don't leave home without Five Things, a quick look at five stories and facts pertaining to your neck of the woods today.

1.  Tonight The Town Council and school committee will hold the first of two Public Hearings on both the municipal and school budgets  at 7:00pm in the Council Chambers.  The second meeting will be held tomorrow, April 14, at the same time and place.  Click here for the event agenda.  Click here to watch the meeting on the town's website.

2. On April 20th, from 7- 9 PM, The BirdSong Gallery and Matunuck Oyster Bar will be co-hosting a Gulf Oil Disaster photography show and silent auction fundraising event in East Matunuck, RI.  The show is scheduled to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Disaster and will feature never seen before photos from the front lines of the disaster.  Photographs for sale will be framed in reclaimed wood from the Gulf region and stained with actual BP oil from the Gulf.

 The event will be a fundraiser, with all profits from photos sold and the silent auction being split equally between Save The Bay RI, the Waterkeeper's Alliance "Save the Gulf" campaign and two out of work fishermen from Louisiana,(Brian Zito and Donny Willard) who were excluded from participating in the BP work programs due to their vessel types and condition.

Several photographers will contribute to the exhibit, but featured will be RI resident/biologist/photo-journalist, Drew Wheelan.  Wheelan spent five months in the Gulf this past year reporting on the Disaster's affects on birds and bird habitat for the American Birding Association.  During that time, his photos and words found their way to many media sources, including Rachel Maddow's blog, the Huffington Post and the front page of the Times Picayune, (New Orleans) as well as many others.  Wheelan's on the ground commentary was also featured on many national media outlets during the disaster including CNN's Anderson Cooper, and Wolf Blitzer, ABC's Diane Sawyer, CBS news and others.

The dual venue will allow participants to mingle in East Matunuck's Succotash Marsh while enjoying fare from local seafood purveyors in a celebration of Rhode Island's coastal culture and environment.  Wheelan hopes that his images will help remind us of the parts we played in the BP disaster as well as the dangers that we face here in Rhode Island.

 

3. With the April 18 tax filing deadline fast approaching, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse urged Rhode Islanders in a recent press release to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit.  The credit, which was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, helps cover the cost of higher education for thousands of Rhode Island families.

“The influx of millions in tax refunds could provide a helpful boost to Rhode Island families struggling to afford the rising cost of college tuition,” said Whitehouse.  “As filing day approaches, Rhode Islanders should be aware of this important program and take full advantage.”

The credit, which can be worth up to $2,500, can be claimed by Rhode Island parents and students currently paying the cost of higher education whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less for individuals, or $160,000 or less for married couples.  According to Treasury Department estimates, the credit delivered $56 million to eligible Rhode Islanders in 2009, but only 29,000 of the 80,000 eligible recipients claimed the credit – leaving millions more unclaimed.

To take advantage of the tax credit, Rhode Islanders must attach IRS Form 8863 to their tax return.  Instructions for the form are available on the web at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf.

 

4. In a release issued by the The Department of Environmental Management, the DEM and the University of Rhode Island are seeking volunteers interested in participating in a statewide survey of American woodcock breeding habitats.  The survey will assist biologists determine the population status of American woodcock, an important migratory bird.  Data from the survey, coupled with ongoing investigations of woodcock habitat selection and survival, will also help biologists determine where future habitat management would most benefit woodcock populations.

The survey will begin on Friday, April 15 and run through May 15, which is when peak woodcock breeding activity occurs in this region. Volunteers can survey their own properties, other properties they are familiar with, or locations selected by DEM and URI wildlife biologists. Woodcock breeding habitats, which are also called singing grounds, consist of various types of open habitats including recent forest clear cuts, other forest openings, and abandoned or maintained meadows and fields. 

 Surveyors will count and report the number of woodcock heard singing on the property. A singing woodcock gives a nasal “peeent” sound that can be heard starting at sunset on calm evenings.  Just after dusk, male woodcock commute to singing grounds and engage in elaborate courtship displays in order to attract females.  Larger singing grounds may contain more than one displaying male, but smaller singing grounds are likely to contain a single bird or two. 

The surveys must start at specific times depending on weather conditions, and can last no longer than 36 minutes.  When skies are clear to three-quarters overcast, the survey must start exactly 22 minutes after the local sunset.  When skies are more than three-quarters overcast, the survey must start 15 minutes after local sunset.  Visit http://www.sunrisesunset.com/usa/Rhode_Island.asp for local sunset times.

Those interested in participating in the survey should contact Roger Masse at URI via email at rjmasse@gmail.com, or Brian Tefft in DEM’s Division of Fish & Wildlife via email at  brian.tefft@dem.ri.gov.  For more information about the survey, the location of potential singing grounds, and how to report observations please visit http://nrs.uri.edu/ce/forestry.html and click on “Rhode Island American Woodcock Survey” on the left side of the page.

 

5. The South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors voted today to oppose Governor Chafee’s tax plan according to a release issued by the Chamber itself. The Board opposes the tax plan for the following reasons.

  • The estimated millions of dollars paid to the State of Rhode Island by this tax increase will be taken out of an already weak economy. Every dollar paid to the State in taxes, is a dollar less the consumer has to purchase goods and services. Factoring in the “multiplier effect” each dollar has when spent in the local economy, makes this impact even more profound.
  • The small businesses affected by this new tax will have to incur an additional  bookkeeping expense to keep track of the new taxes collected. This new tax  revenue will have to be paid on a monthly basis, which is something most small service businesses are not currently equipped to handle. This could result in driving more small businesses “underground” to a cash only basis.
  •  The State has calculated that 21new employees and a budget of $2.2 million will be needed to monitor and collect this new tax. Past performance has shown that these estimates tend to be grossly understated. At a time when the Governor should be looking to reduce the size of Government, he has a proposal which will increase the cost of Government.
  •  In addition we reject any “new” tax regardless of how small it might be. This just opens the door to an increase in future years. The Governor is already proposing to increase the piggyback “food and beverage” tax from 1% to 2%.
  • The State of Rhode Island is victim to past runaway spending, and lavish salary/  pension benefits, which cannot be sustained. The State Budget has increased 59% in the last 10 years with only a .4% increase in the State’s population. It is time to reign in spending and at the very least propose a budget with a 0% increase and no “new” taxes.
Jonathan Daly-LaBelle April 13, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Regarding the Budget Public Hearings, scheduled for this evening and tomorrow, I hope people remember that the Financial Town Meeting was discontinued to better ensure public access and participation, with input able to be better considered by our administrative and elected officials. These Hearings are a key component of that improved process. Those who cannot attend are well-advised to catch the rebroadcast either through the Town's website or on public access channels.
Kate A. April 18, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Please, the financial town meeting was discontinued as a convenience/blessing to the democratic town committee, who have never had a single thought on their own. It was done to make sure the taxpayers didn't have a chance to get together in one place and make their views known. The budget hearings under the current process have been a failure as far as public participation. Numerous hearings hurt public access, making it more difficult to the hearings - instead of one hearing, the FTM, there are how many? Doing away with the FTM assured Steve Alfred, his followers (DTC) and the five head nodders in the high chairs the ability to shoot down anyone's questions or concerns and criticize anyone with the audacity to question their answers. A question or comment is presented, the five council lemmings turn their heads to Alfred as one, he presents his usual mumbo jumbo with numbers, the lemmings nod their heads in agreement. None of them know what he's talking about, and all of them together are no match for half of Alfred His explanation of the vehicle excise tax was incomprehensible the other night, yet not one of those five tooges stands up to him and makes him explain it (because they can't understand or explain it themselves).

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