2007-07-12 / Front Page

Council objects to authority sale terms

By Tom Shevlin

Town councilors voted to move forward with plans to purchase property at upper Taylor Point for the town's proposed highway barn. However the decision did not come without some reservation.

With Council President David Long absent, councilors voted 3 to 1 on Monday to accept an offer of sale from the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) for a parcel at upper Taylor Point necessary for the siting of the town's proposed highway barn. However, at least two councilors expressed concern over some of the language in the RITBA acceptance of the town's offer of purchase, including Councilman William Kelly, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

Last month, the Town Council voted 3-2 to site the town's controversial highway barn at a property on upper Taylor Point, which would require the town to purchase a parcel of land for $97,500 from RITBA in order to meet critical space requirements for the facility.

In a letter dated June 22, 2007, RITBA Executive Director Buddy Croft outlined terms of the sale, which did not sit well with some councilors.

Councilman Michael Schnack, who voted to site the highway barn adjacent to the town's transfer station at Lot 47, pointed to a request by the bridge authority to "review and approve the facility's design and how the property will be utilized." Schnack labeled that request as "totally unacceptable," and expressed concerns over giving that kind of oversight to the bridge authority.

Councilman William Kelly echoed Schnack's concerns saying "we're running the operation not them," and highlighted several more concerns of his own.

In reading the letter provided to the council, Kelly remarked that "what I see is that RITBA is asking for authority over our project."

Kelly went on to list a total of nine items which he found issue with. One such objection was in response to a request by RITBA asking that "the Town release the authority for any damages to the facility." According to Kelly, releasing the authority from liability to the town should bridge workers damage the facility could potentially be extremely costly to the town and provide officials with no avenue for recourse.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser agreed with Schnack and Kelly's concerns saying that the town was "not writing a blank check," and that both the town and the bridge authority "have a common interest in the design," of the highway facility.

Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski asked if these items were just the start of negotiations, to which Keiser replied that RITBA had shown that they were willing to work with the town to resolve the matter in a timely fashion.

Both Keiser and Town Solicitor Peter Ruggeiro seemed confident that the town and RITBA officials would be able to resolve any differences by the Aug. 28 special referendum on the barn.

Ruggeiro said, "they'll have to make time," to negotiate the final disposition of the sale.

Long gives legislative update

In the open forum, State Rep. Bruce Long (R - Jamestown, Middletown) gave the council a final legislative update for the year. Long reported that although being "slightly watered down," in the senate, three of the bills he co-sponsored in the house regarding coastal homeowners insurance rates passed into law: a bill to create an oversight committee on hurricane modeling used by insurers to set rates, a bill that would seek to stabilize deductibles for coastal residents, and a bill that would require insurance companies to indicate which models they use in their rate-making process. A bill to outlaw the practice of coastal redlining, which would have made it more difficult for insurers to revoke or not renew policies based on proximity to the coast, did not pass the senate, he said.

Also in the open forum, Valerie Malloy of Columbia Avenue proposed providing the public access to the town's Tall Ships expenses so that the town would be bettered prepared for the next such event.

In other business:

• The council unanimously approved the question for an August 28 special referendum as adopted on June 25. Voters will be asked to approve or deny the following question:

Shall acts, passed at the 2007 session of the General Assembly, entitled "An act authorizing the Town of Jamestown to finance the construction of a highway garage at a site to be acquired from the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and adjacent townowned land, and to issue not more than $1,500,000 bonds and notes therefore" be approved?

• Recommended that Jamestown Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) Director Rick Hodges confer with Town Administrator Bruce Keiser regarding the JEMS compensation structure. Records indicate that several JEMS administration members may have received compensation for which they are not authorized to receive under current council-approved regulations. Hodges suggested that the unauthorized compensation may have been the result of poor communication between JEMS membership, who had voted in favor of compensating administration members from the $10,000 allocated by the council for director compensation, and the town council, who have final approval of how taxpayer money is spent.

• Put the awarding of a bid on a town paving project on hold in order to provide the low-bidder an opportunity to meet necessary certification standards with the Department of Transportation.

• Councilman Kelly asked that a budget review workshop be scheduled for some time in September in order to familiarize councilors and the public with the fiscal year 2008 budget prior to November's elections.

• Awarded a certificate of Appreciation to Robert C. and Mary Jane Blanchette for their contribution of transferring ownership of Plat 16, Lot 120 on Schooner Avenue in the Jamestown Shores to the town for the purpose of preservation.

Kelly encouraged other island residents to consider making similar contributions to the island's preservation efforts and stressed that "anyone willing to make these contributions should be applauded."

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