160 voters turn out to vote on $27.9M spending plan

HOPKINTON — With a dismal turnout that included less than 160 voters, residents have rejected a $27.9 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year that would have required a $0.31 increase in the property tax rate.

Just 159 of the town’s 6,196 registered voters took part in Tuesday’s referendum, representing just 2.5% of those eligible. The proposed budget, which called for a 2.4% increase in combined government and education spending, was rejected by a 3-2 ratio, with 95 people voting against and only 64 in favor.

Even with waning participation in recent years, town officials said the turnout was lower than the average year and could make it difficult to determine what changes the general public would like to see made.

“We would normally see between 200 and 300 voters come out in a typical year, so yes this is considered a low turnout,” said Deputy Town Clerk Marita Murray.

The rejected budget included a proposed $85,000 increase, or 1.2%, in municipal spending and a $469,000 increase, or 2.3%, increase in the town’s share of the annual budget for the Chariho Regional School District. The budget had also called for a 79.6% increase in capital spending that would have added $238,000 to the line item.

Although capital spending had appeared to be a substantial increase, members of the Town Council said in May before sending the budget to referendum that it is less than the capital improvement spending allocated in previous fiscal years. The proposal had included $165,000 for the demolition of the 1904 building at Ashaway Elementary School, $20,000 for technology and website upgrades, and $53,000 for a police vehicle replacement.

Many of the town’s departments were to be level-funded under that plan with increases cited as the result of contractual liabilities. The town also has no direct authority over its share of the Chariho school budget, which accounts for 77% of the total town budget, since voters in Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton approved the school budget in April.

Town voters last rejected the annual budget at referendum in 2019, which ultimately led to the town reverting to using the 2018-19 fiscal budget. Officials indicated that while elected officials could present a revised proposal for a second referendum, the budget will now likely revert to the previous year’s as it did in 2019.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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