2009-10-22 / Front Page

Council considers weight of financial issues

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Town Council this week discussed a financial issue with long-term implications – along with other issues demanding relatively fast action.

The council also settled the controversy over truck traffic on Carr Lane, and devoted quite some time to its pending decision on amendments to the zoning ordinance.

The issue that will reverberate during the next fiscal year arises from a recent decision by Gov. Donald Carcieri, who has asked the legislature to slash motor vehicle excise tax reimbursements to municipalities. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said the town would lose $110,000 in reimbursement revenue if the rollback goes through at the 25% level proposed by Carcieri.

However, Keiser added at the Oct. 19 meeting of the council, “I learned on Friday that the state may find it necessary to rescind 50% of the reimbursement. We’re on shifting sands here, but losing this revenue – whether it’s $110,000 or $220,000 – will strain our ability to balance the budget.”

Keiser referred to the reimbursement shortfall in response to a question about the source of funding for a donation to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association. The council recently agreed to provide the group with $15,000, to be followed by an additional $10,000 down the road. Because of the pending revenue loss, “We will have to look at the budget from every possible angle,” Keiser said. “Fifteen thousand dollars is not a small amount, but our $7.2 million operating budget provides us with opportunities to find money here and there.

“In a worst-case scenario,” Keiser continued, “if funding is unavailable [for the entirety of the donation] this fiscal year, we would make a commitment for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. [The BLMA] told us they were interested primarily in a pledge, at this point – not revenue in hand, immediately – because a demonstration of local support really helps them in their efforts to obtain grant funding from outside sources.”

Council member Bill Kelly said he was “absolutely supportive of the $25,000 request because the town has to invest in our assets.”

He added, however, that funding the first phase of the BLMA donation from the proceeds of a recent auction of town equipment should not delay or prevent the purchase of a new lawnmower because public works personnel are “operating a 30-year-old lawn mower that is dangerous for them to use.”

Keiser replied that in its pledge to the BLMA, the town said it was holding back $9,000 to $10,000 for the purpose of acquiring a new mower. Whether or not the town decides to delay the donation, Kelly said, “Buying the mower now would save us money. I understand that there’s a demo model available – but only if we move forward.”

Yet another – and much larger – financial issue involves the proposed sale of town land at Ft. Wetherill. The council has previously discussed selling or leasing the 3.6 acres of shorefront land, which was formerly the site of the highway barn. Before attempting to sell the land, however, the town had to be sure that there isn’t any contamination in the soil – and the results from the Department of Environmental Management testing are in, Keiser said: The soil is clean.

Consequently, the door is open to negotiations with the three parties who had previously expressed interest in the site: DEM, Conanicut Marine Services and the Jamestown Aquaculture Group. As of last June, the town had received offers of $2.7 million for the entire parcel; $1.5 million for the waterfront area (including

the barn); $1.1 million for the vacant area; and a land-swap offer

in which DEM would trade its Beavertail land (where the town could site a wind turbine) for the Ft. Wetherill parcel.

The town will also weigh the possibility of selling half the parcel for residential development, but the next step, Keiser said, will be “contacting the DEM director to re-initiate discussions.”

Keiser had submitted to DEM a draft memorandum of agreement on appropriate uses for the site, but “DEM has been slow to respond,” said council member Bob Sutton, “and I don’t think we should wait another year for their response.”

Kelly agreed, adding, “This is a very valuable piece of property, and it’s time for DEM to get off the pot.”

Council member Barbara Szepatowski stressed, however, that “we have not selected DEM [for any deal] and we have not approached the other parties to ask if they would be willing to share the site” with DEM.

Another development for the plus side of the ledger, Keiser said, will be a state Energy Effi ciency and Conservation Block Grant for the town. Jamestown’s share will be $7,811 for “performance contracting,” which would be used for energy audits; $54,983 as a base grant; and $25,000 as a competitive grant.

Keiser said the recreation center has been identified as a priority for a new heating system, adding that the town wouldn’t have to compete for the grant to pay for it; rather, it would only have to demonstrate the energy benefits of a new system. Kelly warned, however, that any estimate of a furnace replacement will have to include the cost of pouring a concrete floor in the basement, because, he said, “It would be ludicrous to put a new boiler on a mud floor.”

In a non-financial development, the council approved an ordinance that will prohibit through trucking on Carr Lane – except for town vehicles (including school buses). The ordinance defi nes “truck” as any commercially registered vehicle with a gross vehicle weight-rating over 7,000 pounds. The Lane will be posted at both ends, and there will be additional signage identifying Rt. 138 as the truck route.

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