Council, harbor panel not seeing eye to eye on ordinance edits
The Town Council this week postponed its long-pending votes on Harbor Management Ordinance revisions and a video-recording service for its meetings.
The delay in the video-recording decision defies a clear explanation, but the reason for the harbor postponement is logical enough: the council and the Harbor Management Commission remain at odds over some key issues.
The council met on Oct. 3. By the time they meet again – on Oct. 17 – the councilors will have been provided with both sets of proposed revisions in formal, legal language. At some point during the meeting, they will vote to advertise a public hearing on the proposals.
The public hearing will be held during the council’s Nov. 7 meeting. The immediate differences of opinion between the council and the commission were evident in a memo with requested changes from both the commission and the council. The council’s changes were inserted by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser; the commission’s changes were adopted by a unanimous Sept. 21 vote.
One of key disagreements between the two sides is the use of lease revenue from town-owned waterfront properties. Currently, the town brings in $80,000 a year from marina operators leasing property at Fort Wetherill, Dutch Harbor and East Ferry. Traditionally, the revenue has been used for harbor repairs and renovations. However, under language proposed by Keiser and the council in June, the town could access that money for municipal infrastructure work.
The June proposal also revises the allocation formula for the town’s mooring fees, which are separate from the marinas’ mooring fees. The fees, which are $8.30 per foot for commercial and non-resident boats, and $4.15 for resident boats, were increased earlier this year. But there’s still a dispute about the future use of those fees.
Under the proposed allocation formula, marina operators would have to deposit 100 percent of the mooring fees and wait-list fees – along with 50 percent of non-resident and commercial mooring fees – in a harbor management account maintained by the town’s finance department.
The town wants to potentially tap that account, which is now referred to as a harbor enterprise fund, for municipal projects. Although the memo doesn’t address the allocation formula, the commission has previously opposed it. They also oppose a Keiser proposal to require the annual submission of a five-year capital improvement plan for council review.
Although it appears likely that the council will hold a vote on the ordinance revisions during its Nov. 7 meeting, it has become impossible to predict when the councilors will vote on the video-recording proposal. That’s because some unexpected ideas – time-stamped audio recording and a presentation from a vendor whose bid was previously dismissed – have been thrown into the mix.
The failure to hold a video-recording vote followed a presentation by ClerkBase, which has offered to provide the software piece of the recording service (and already stores a searchable database of council agendas and meeting minutes for the town). Although the council has thought about streaming its meetings over the Internet, ClerkBase president Jay Rosenfeld told the council, “Very few people watch the meetings live. Most people watch [the stored videos] after searching for a particular subject. It’s an added expense and you would have to justify it.”
A company called IQM2 has submitted the lowest software bid, although Jamestown Daily Record publisher Sav Rebecchi has offered to provide the town with video recordings free of charge. IQM2 had not been invited to present a summary of its bid because its offer “is considered a low-ball submission that might not be available after the first year,” says a previous memo to the council from Councilor Bob Bowen.
During this week’s meeting, however, Bowen said, “Maybe we should get IQM2 in here [for a presentation].” He also suggested the possibility of initially limiting the recordings of council meetings to time-stamped audio files.
The town is already making digital audio recordings of its council meetings, but the recordings aren’t time-stamped. Rosenfeld said audio files recorded by a contractor (who would also handle the time-stamping) would be cheaper than video recordings, but he didn’t say by how much – which raises the prospect of additional council discussions on the issue. In public comments to the council, moreover, Rebecchi warned that any deviations from a meeting agenda would add a potentially “huge amount of work” to the timestamping process.
With the exception of the lengthy Fort Getty discussions, the remainder of the council meeting was occupied largely by updates from Keiser, who addressed:
• Wind turbine grant requests: The town has a pending $25,000 request into the state Renewable Energy Fund to pay for six more months of wind-energy measurements at Taylor Point. At the same time, the town is about to file a request for $111,755 in Economic Development Corporation grants (sourced from federal stimulus money) to pay for a wide variety of expenditures in support of the turbine proposal – including wind-energy measurements. If the REF grant should be awarded before the EDC grant is processed, the town, Keiser said, would negotiate with the corporation to adjust its grant request.
• Pending Safe Routes to Schools work: The state Department of Transportation, Keiser said, has informed the town that it has received the archeological assessment of the sidewalk areas that the town plans to expand in an effort to improve the safety of kids walking or biking to Lawn Avenue School. Town Planner Lisa Bryer said that, so far, the Narragansetts are “on board” with the assessment, and that the town will keep them apprised of any findings that result from the additional archeological work that the town still has to do.
• The bike path proposal: Keiser said he met with DOT Director Michael Lewis to discuss the funding prospects for the town’s proposed bike path. The meeting was also attended by Bryer, Rep. Deb Ruggiero, Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed, and Bike Path Design Committee Chairman Bob Sutton. The upshot of the meeting was that, based on a quick estimate by a DOT engineer, the bike path would cost $1 million – and that the state was likely to allocate the money unless Congress decides to reduce the funds available for state transportation improvements.
• Transportation Improvement Program grants: Keiser reminded the council that ideas for TIP projects must be submitted for consideration by Oct. 28. The public is invited to share its ideas, as well, and will have an opportunity to do so during the council meeting of Oct. 17 or even earlier. The opportunity for public input is important because the federal DOT requires documentation that the opportunity has been provided.
• Pavilion reimbursement: The town and its insurance company have still not come to terms on its reimbursement request to replace the John C. Rembijas pavilion. The insurance company’s re-insurer pushed back against the town’s initial $400,000 request on the grounds that – in the opinion of the secondary insurance company – many of the specifications for the replacement structure are “enhancements.” Consequently, the insurance company is willing to pay out only $198,000. Keiser noted that the company doesn’t believe that “hardening” the foundation is necessary under current code, and that relocating the pavilion to the hill to the north – and away from the beach – would not affect the payout. That’s because, in the company’s opinion, the greatest loading threat to the structure is wind, not water.
• The golf course building: In order for the caddy shack portion of the building to be safely usable, the town will have to perform $10,000 worth of structural reinforcements to the foundation on the southern side of the structure, Keiser said. He added that the money for the work is available in $280,000 golf course reserve account.
A final piece of council business – the acceptance of a resignation letter from Planning Commission member Susan Little – sparked a plea from Bryer and Town Council President Mike Schnack. Bryer said that the commission has encountered diffi- culty getting quorums for its meetings. Both she and Schnack urged any member of the public with an interest in government to consider applying for the open position.