Plaintiffs list on suit grows

Plaintiffs list on suit grows

140 challenge Woonsocket's supplemental tax

WOONSOCKET - An effort to challenge the Budget Commission's decision to send out additional tax bills to Woonsocket property owners this year is growing, and Attorney Robert Senville asked a judge this week to amend the complaint to include an additional 135 taxpayer/plaintiffs.

The Superior Court suit, which was filed Aug. 15 with five original plaintiffs: James Cournoyer, Sen. Marc Cote, Roger Jalette, Roland Michaud and Shaun Cournoyer, charges that the Commission failed to realize the $3.75 million in other savings required to legally levy the tax.

The Commission, represented by attorneys Edmond Alves and Joseph Cavanagh, and the city of Woonsocket, represented by Attorney Marc DeSisto, are defendants in the suit.

To send out the tax bills, which arrived in residents' mailboxes in July, the board was required to obtain General Assembly approval, as the massive 23 percent increase exceeded the tax allowed under state law. The city delegation begrudgingly supported the plan, and according to reports, Cote fought to include wording that assured others - namely the city's unions and retirees - would share in the burden.

The case stems from that wording, which required the Commission to "realize" $3.75 million in savings in other areas before leaning on taxpayers to balance the city's books.

Senville's services have been paid for by the Woonsocket Legal Defense Fund, an organization set up through donations exclusively to challenge the tax. He has filed for a class action suit on behalf of taxpayers.

If the suit is not granted class-action status, however, only the named plaintiffs will benefit if the challenge succeeds. In September, organizers held an educational forum and recruited 60 additional plaintiffs. Since then, Senville told The Breeze, signed retainers have continued to come in.

In a counterclaim filed Sept. 6, the city and the Commission denied allegations in the suit, and called on the judge to dismiss the case. The defendants assert the Commission obtained $4.7 million in savings, exceeding the required threshold for mailing out the bills, and deny the plaintiffs' argument that some of those funds should not be counted because they are vulnerable to legal challenges. Nearly 50 police retirees have signed on to a separate suit challenging changes to their healthcare policies.

Senville's motion to amend the case to include 135 plaintiffs was submitted on Sept. 23, and was scheduled to be heard in Providence County Superior Court on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 9:30 a.m. The attorney said that courts typically just accept such motions. A date for a hearing on the potential for class action status has not yet been scheduled.