Dear Mayor, City Council and Warwick School Committee:
My name is Michael Underwood. I live in the Cole Farm section of Warwick (Ward 4). I am the vice president of the neighborhood association, a husband and a father to a beautiful and bright 6-year-old. I am a 23-year honorably retired disabled United States Coast Guard veteran. I’m a Warwick small business owner. I’m also an unsuccessful candidate for State Representative (District 21).
But, I’m not wearing any of those hats right now. I do, however, represent the average Warwick taxpayer, resident or constituent that has reached a breaking point.
When I retired from the Coast Guard I was excited and happy to “come home.” I bought a knock down house and built a new house for a grand total of $269,000. Well, guess what that house was just assessed at? A whopping $470,000. That’s going to be about a $1,200-1,500 annual increase from where I am now. And it may be more because the association’s land just went up $660,000. Which, by the way, you doubled the tax of everyone in the neighborhood. Ironically, someone else’s house valuation went down.
As each day goes on I regret my decision to ever come back and live here. It is blatantly obvious that my daughter will not receive a decent education, and my house is for sale just two short years after I built a house in front of me for my elderly mother to see and spend time with her only granddaughter.
One might ask, well, what do I get for $10-12,000 in potential taxes?
I know none of you will ask, so let me tell you. I get trash pick-up. Not just trash pick-up though. I get sworn at and verbally abused by an arrogant, lazy trashman in front of, at the time, my 5-year-old daughter, which I had to put in the house, so I could rebuke the guy and file a complaint.
I get real crappy entrance roads and overgrowth that was surprisingly cut this year once. The road was so bad we approved the expenditure to pave 200 feet of road into our neighborhood. Yes, you heard that right. We paid for it.
It is the only road into our development. During the microburst, we were plowed in by someone from the city with a front end loader stacking 18 trees like Lincoln Logs, thus cutting off any emergency ingress or egress for 84 homes for two weeks. We cut our own way out. I mention this incident, as if that’s not bad enough, because we decided we needed another emergency-only access gate or entry point. We worked with the local fire station that helped choose a new entry that would suit the trucks and they agreed and thought it was a great idea. By the way, we work very well with our local fire station and they leave a boat at our dock free of charge for immediate response due to proximity of Conimicut Point and Gaspee Point as a result of multiple drowning deaths.
So, we applied and submitted all the required paperwork to the Public Works Department over the course of three to five years. We were having our new gate installed last fall and, lo and behold, a city worker who lives on Archdale got belligerent with the fence company and an 82-year-old widow and the president of the association. The supervisor showed up and it was admitted by said city employee that he had been throwing away our paperwork. Yes, you read that right. The fence is on our property, not his. He has no right to tell us what to do, get belligerent, and throw away our applications. And we are no further along than when we started.
By the way, I would also like to add that everyone in our neighborhood paid their sewer assessment of $3,000 and we gladly gave the city an easement of 150 feet of sewer main line through our property. We were told we were on our own, though.
At this point, I would like to ask for my money back for the last 12 years of taxes that equal over $100,000 based on the fact that we get treated so poorly and essentially get nothing. We are facing a catastrophic situation right now and, after coming to several school and City Council meetings, the only thing I see is a bunch of irresponsible people pointing fingers at each other. That’s not leadership, and you are kicking the proverbial can down the road. I want you all to consider things like emergency spending freezes, worker furlough days, budget cuts or more specifically declare bankruptcy or receivership. We are already there, just do it.
I want responsible government. I also don’t want elected officials on hot mics calling constituents "***holes," which is eerily familiar to what Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson said when she was on the City Council. Yes, my/our state rep that sponsored the evergreen contract. How’s that working out? I don’t want ethics violations. I don’t want cronyism by hiring business partners for city work. I don’t want the council president or the mayor to ridicule and belittle a constituent when they ask questions at a city meeting. I don’t want the federal government or the FBI conducting three separate investigations of our city. I’m tired of hiring lawyers and appraisers to fight your ridiculous appraisals, which are just wasteful tax money grabs.
I’m aggravated by the school committee chair shutting down comments at meetings. I’m tired of the phrase "level funded." Do your research on the Coast Guard. We were level funded and usually lost money every couple of years. I don’t want schools that are in the bottom quarter rankings in the state with a 25 percent math proficiency.
Pensions and legacy costs are out of control. We have unratified contracts and shady deals going on with pay rates and overtime scams that are out of control. We have some of the highest costs of services with some poor ratings. And before I’m attacked for talking about it, I'll remind you all that I am a 23-year Coast Guard veteran. I signed that blank check payable with my life. I fought fires in my time. I’m so old I used OBAs for firefighting. I’ve personally conducted an average of 400 law enforcement boardings annually. So yes, I’ve done both of those jobs, with a lot of life saving thrown in as well. With all of that said, at no point will my retirement be more than when I was active. I also have to pay for a medical, dental and vision insurance policy for my family. It is not free.
I’m asking you, in your elected capacity, to be leaders that we all hoped for and fix this. Do not point the blame at each other, because some of you have been here for a while and are culpable to this fiscal crisis. The fiscal crisis that I refer to already meets two of the state criteria to declare bankruptcy or request receivership.
If any of you would like to come to see anything I speak of, please do, I’ll give you the full tour.