2010-12-16 / News

Board puts temporary freeze on utility shutoffs

By Phil Zahodiakin

Jamestown Town Council members this week adopted a resolution endorsing a temporary moratorium on water- and sewerservice shutoffs when delinquent ratepayers are burdened by “legitimate economic stress conditions.”

The Town Council, acting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commisioners, met on Dec. 13. The moratorium would be limited to the winter months.

The resolution says, “The present economic climate has created significant unemployment and under-employment.” As a result, “account holders may encounter difficulty in paying their utility accounts in full.”

The resolution also instructs the commission clerk to post a copy of the resolution on the Town Water and Sewer website, and distribute a copy to everyone with a service account.

Utility shutoff relief was not the only moratorium discussed by the councilors. During their Town Council meeting, also held on Dec. 13, the councilors addressed a proposed moratorium on private wind-turbine construction.

The proposal was offered during the previous Council meeting by Councilor Ellen Winsor, who fears that the absence of a town ordinance governing the placement of private turbines opens the door to structures whose potential noise and safety risks could become a significant problem for island residents.

Currently, private wind turbines can only be built under a special-use permit. Winsor wants Jamestown to follow the lead of Charlestown, which recently adopted a temporary moratorium in response to “an unprecedented public outcry regarding applications to establish wind energy generators in the town.”

The moratorium, which would run for six months, would provide an opportunity for the town to craft and adopt an ordinance. Jamestown doesn’t have any pending requests for wind-turbine permits, but Winsor wanted the Council to act quickly to ensure that any such requests are held in abeyance until an ordinance is in place.

The Council decided to wait for guidance from the Jamestown Planning Commission on the language of an ordinance. Because the commission, with support from Planning Department staff, is currently engaged in its work on the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan, it’s unclear when they would be ready to offer guidance.

Councilors who opposed an immediate moratorium said that they were concerned that an ordinance might not be developed and adopted before the moratorium expired.

Winsor argued that the moratorium could be extended if an ordinance isn’t adopted before its expiration, but Keiser said, “You only have one shot at it.”

“Yes, an extension is possible,” Keiser said. “However, the courts are reluctant to support extensions unless the towns are demonstrating good faith efforts to establish their new zoning regulations.”

Keiser added that Town Planning Director Lisa Bryer and the town solicitor will provide the Council with draft moratorium language in time for its second January meeting.

Another Winsor proposal – duplicating a Burrillville resolution on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for product packaging – was passed with amendments. Under the resolution, Jamestown joins Burrillville in urging the R.I. General Assembly to enact comprehensive EPR legislation requiring manufacturers to accept end-of-life management of their product packaging, including responsibility for any costs associated with hazardous product disposal.

The Jamestown Council, however, deleted language that would have directed the Jamestown Department of Public Works to develop recommendations for an EPR program.

A proposal to award a contract for live Internet video-streams of Council meetings was not debated because Keiser is still in the process of evaluating the suitable responses to the town’s request for proposals. “We’re checking references [submitted by the qualified respondents] and doing assessments to see which of the software proposals would be best for the town,” Keiser said.

Keiser said he expects to have a recommendation for a software provider at the Jan. 3 Council meeting.

Keiser also said that after meeting with Mike Glier, the town’s IT manager, and local resident Jim Smith – who provided the video specifications – “we decided that we will put out a solicitation for bids on the hardware side. So, we’re preparing specifi- cations for both a hard-wired and Internet-based system.”

Keiser also noted that a Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns survey has determined that “only a minority of communities is providing live video streams of their council meetings, and some of them are taping their meetings for broadcast on a Cox channel.”

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