New Town Council faces a rocky road
We will all be watching next week as a new Town Council is sworn in, starting a three-year term of governing our island.
The first order of business will be the selection of a new council president and vice president. Then, council members will have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. The new council is fortunate that the town is in pretty good shape. Two of the biggest stumbling blocks in recent years have been resolved – the construction of the new town hall and the public works facility.
But the road ahead could be rocky. Here’s what we see facing this council:
• A tighter municipal budget. The state of Rhode Island economic forecast is gloomy and becoming bleaker each day. We can expect what little state revenue sharing there is for the town and schools to evaporate next year. The new council will have to figure out how to maintain services without drastic tax hikes. Is another zero percent increase town budget even possible at this point?
• Signed on the dotted line. Labor contract negotiations will be a major detail on the next council’s agenda. Municipal department heads saw their pay frozen in the current budget. Union locals will be asked to shoulder their fair share of the recession hurt.
• Free electricity. We’ve been talking and studying municipal windmills for some time now. This council will have to decide if we should build a wind turbine and in whose backyard. Then, the council will have to decide how to pay the bill.
• To sell or not to sell. The former highway garage at Ft. Wetherill is prime real estate that should be developed by the town or sold to the highest bidders. The new council will have to decide what to do with that property and also dispose of the former town office property on Southwest Avenue.
• A plan for Ft. Getty. There are many possibilities for expanding the local use of the town jewel. Surely we can scale back the campground and develop other revenue streams at the park so that islanders can take full advantage of the waterfront playground.
• No more Band-Aids. It’s time to fix the ailing municipal water and sewer utility. Drastic rate hikes may be in store for those who have town water. Will this council be able to keep the utility afloat?
Of course, Jamestown voters will be available to share their opinions on all these issues and more.
— Jeff McDonough