2009-02-05 / Front Page

State funding information not available until March

Assembly will not commit before June
By Sam Bari

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser announced at Monday's Town Council meeting that according to a recent memo from the League of Cities and Towns, information on state funds and subsidies will not be available until March.

"Although the governor's budget will be presented next week, the state General Assembly will not begin deliberating the disbursements of funds to local municipalities until March," Keiser said.

"The assembly will not commit to anything until June," he added.

Until then, the town will not know if the financing for the school bus program, special education, and a number of other items that depend on state subsidies and grants will receive the needed funding. "However, we will get an idea of the direction things are going somewhere close to the end of March," Keiser said.

Due to scheduling issues with both town council and school committee members, preliminary budget meetings that were scheduled for early in March have been postponed to Monday, March 30, and Thursday, April 2, at 6 p.m.

The school committee was invited to attend the sessions at the special budget meeting earlier Monday.

Councilman Robert Sutton said that inviting the school committee was a good idea so they can see how the town administrator is working with the council to keep the budget level funded.

"The town council and the school committee should work to- gether," Sutton said. "I don't think we should necessarily assume that any shortages from the state in funding should automatically fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers."

Councilman Michael White said that the school committee worked hard at its first budget meeting to hold the budget down. "I was very pleased," White said.

In other business, Keiser reported that GZA Environmental Inc., of Providence, the firm contracted to handle the landfill closure, submitted the first draft of its final report to Town Engineer Michael Gray. He said that Gray has been burdened with snow removal and other immediate issues and has not yet finished reviewing the report.

Keiser said that Gray will analyze the draft and return it to GZA with his recommendations as soon as possible. GZA will then make appropriate adjustments and return the report to the town council for final approval.

Council member Barbara Szepatowski said that the report is available online, linked from the Jamestown website under Land Fill.

The council also discussed a memo from the town administrator concerning the future of the Fort Wetherill highway barn.

Council member William Kelly suggested that the council define guidelines about acceptable usage for the facility because some of the proposals the town had received were beyond the limits of what was possible.

Szepatowski suggested that the council should review all proposals whether they are feasible or not. "You never know when a good idea will be presented that we might have missed if we don't listen to everything," she said. "We should just put it out there and see what we get."

Szepatowski said that the council should be open to the possibility of selling the property, leasing, and even subdividing the parcel. "In this difficult economy, we have to do what is best for the town," she said.

Council member Michael White said that he liked some of the suggestions from the public hearing like aquaculture, a boat repair facility, and possible education use. He also agreed with Szepatowski and said that the council should listen to everything with no limitations.

Sutton suggested that they couldn't just say there are no limitations. "There's all kinds of limitations," Sutton said. "There are limitations to the septic system, limitations to what the neighborhood would accept, limitations of acreage, state-owned land to consider, and all kinds of things that limit the use of the property."

He also said that he did not think the town was ready to request proposals because it had not decided on the way the property could be used. "I don't think we want to say or imply that whoever offers the most money gets it," Sutton said. "We're not open to just any suggestion because the person doing the suggesting has the most money. We're not open to anything that will disrupt the boat owners association. We're not open to anything that requires a liquor license and a lot of parking. There are lots of things we won't consider.

"I think we should consider water related usage like the aquaculture that Phil Larson proposed at the public hearing or some other water related use," Sutton said. He also said that he did not think the town should sell such a valuable asset.

Council member William Kelly said that he wouldn't be interested in discussing anything that had to do with a banquet facility, catering, or a liquor license. "With the limitations to the septic system, we can't entertain suggestions like that. And with the budget situation being what it is, while we're trying to keep things in perspective, how can we think about funding the expensive renovations that a facility like that would require?" he asked.

Kelly suggested that the facility be considered for a water-related use. "We should be talking to the state to see what kind of a partnership we can work with them, or explore the possibilities of the aquaculture proposals that would benefit everybody and be cost effi cient," Kelly said.

The council instructed Keiser to draft an RFP with limitations concerning wastewater and water hookups, parking, environmental considerations, and the sensitivity of the location, which is surrounded by a park, DEM research facilities, and a residential neighborhood.

In another matter, after finding medical waste illegally dumped in a compost pile, the council voted unanimously to raise the fine for illegal dumping from $100 to $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense.

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