2012-03-08 / News

Packed agenda keeps council busy

Harbor budget, affordable housing and a busy summer on the bay among concerns
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

Despite some lingering controversies, the Town Council this week adopted the harbor fees and budget proposed by the Harbor Management Commission for fiscal year 2012-13.

The councilors also slated dates for the town’s upcoming budget workshops and allocated a substantial grant for an affordable housing project. But they failed to resolve a simmering dispute over benefits for retired firefighters and their widows.

The council met on March 5. A second harbor-related issue emerged during the meeting, namely, the onslaught of traffic and tourists that will inundate East Ferry during the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival and America’s Cup World Series racing during a twoweek period this summer.

The vote to adopt the proposed harbor fees was held 10 days before a statutory deadline. The Harbor Management Ordinance requires the adoption of a fee schedule by March 15, but it also requires the commission to submit a five-year infrastructure plan along with its budget proposal. Because the commission had previously failed to submit the five-year plan, the council tabled a vote on the budget and fees during its Feb. 21 meeting.

This time around, there was a five-year plan proposing $511,700 in expenditures before the council. The plan includes a $164,700 contribution towards seawall replacement, which had sparked controversy during the past several months because some stakeholders believe that the town “owns” the seawalls and is solely responsible for their replacement costs. But the seawall debate seems to be over.

However, that doesn’t mean the harbor discussions passed without controversy. Councilor Bob Bowen asked how the commission could have set its proposed fees before detailing the first year of infrastructure spending in its fiveyear plan.

Harbor Commission Chairman Mike de Angeli replied that the commission knew before developing its five-year plan that the harbor fees (along with its $210,000 budget) would be the same as they were in fiscal year 2011-12. But Bowen also pointed out that the commission had proposed to spend only $10,000 on Fort Getty’s wood pile pier during the next five years – an insufficient amount, Bowen argued, in view of the rot in the structure.

Public Works Director Mike Gray questioned this assessment of the pier, pointing out, “The facility isn’t falling into the ocean,” and adding that the town will perform repairs where necessary. Noting that the pier is currently used primarily for fishing, Gray asked, “To what standard would you rebuild the pier? Do you want it to accommodate large vessels? Accommodating two large vessels wouldn’t bring in much revenue in comparison to the investment that [a reconstruction of the pier] would require.”

Bowen didn’t specify the standard he had in mind, but Councilor Bill Murphy raised a similar concern when he noted that the budget for dock maintenance at East Ferry “looks light.” Gray replied that the floating dock and wood pile pier had been rebuilt at a cost exceeding $650,000, which meant that their long-term maintenance needs would be minimal.

The harbor budget, fees and fiveyear plan were adopted by a 4-1 vote. Councilor Ellen Winsor said she would vote against the package to demonstrate her concern that the commission is “losing its autonomy.” Council President Mike Schnack replied that her concerns were not supported by the Town Charter, which says it’s up to the council to define the responsibilities of the commission.

Winsor also raised concerns about the level of Jamestown preparations for the Tall Ships and America’s Cup this summer. The preliminary racing is especially relevant to Jamestown residents because the race course, unlike the 27-mile triangle set up in Block Island Sound in bygone years, will be a miniature layout between the Newport Bridge and Fort Adams.

Given the limited viewing opportunities on the Newport side of the harbor, East Ferry and the promontory at Fort Wetherill will be prime destinations for tourists and race fans. But, as Murphy has previously pointed out, Jamestown was stuck paying police overtime in the aftermath of the previous Tall Ships visitation after the state reneged on its promise to pay those expenses.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said the town has been assured that the Economic Development Corporation will funnel money to Jamestown for its traffi c-management expenses. “But someone needs to tell the state police that they need to close the Jamestown Bridge if they close the Pell Bridge,” Murphy said. “Last time they didn’t, and all those people [bound for Newport] ended up here without any idea of where they were.”

Winsor said the town should hold a workshop with Police Chief Ed Mello and Fire Chief Jim Bryer to ensure that the town knows, in advance, how many people and vehicles can be accommodated in Jamestown – and where they will all be directed for viewing and parking. Schnack agreed and a workshop will be held at some point in the near future. The America’s Cup racing will be held during the last week of June. The Tall Ships event will be held during the week of July 4.

Winsor also figured in the discussions on a Clean Water Action request for the town to assign a council member to join its newly established Rhode Island Product Stewardship Council. Clean Water Action wants manufacturers to take more responsibility for its product packaging, thereby easing recycling costs, preserving landfill space and helping to protect local aquifers.

During the Feb. 13 council meeting, both Winsor and Murphy expressed an interest in serving on the packaging panel. During this week’s meeting, the council passed a resolution supporting the assignment of a council member to serve on the panel, but the selection of an appointee was less than straightforward.

Winsor pointed out that she first raised the issue of packaging accountability during a December 2010 council meeting when she asked the councilors to endorse a Burrillville resolution asking the General Assembly to “enact comprehensive Extended Producer Responsibility legislation.”

Pointing out that she had raised the issue several times since that 2010 meeting, Winsor repeated her desire to serve on the panel but, despite her self-nomination and a second from Schnack, her name was not offered for a vote. Councilor Mike White nominated Murphy to serve on the panel and he was quickly appointed.

In similar business, the council appointed David Frank to serve on the Tree Preservation and Protection Committee, which has several vacancies. Winsor nominated Andrew Yates, but no one seconded the nomination, so only Frank was appointed. There was one slot open on the Harbor Commission, and it went to Pat Bolger.

In other business, the council voted to provide Bridges Inc. with a $138,827 allocation from the Jamestown Housing Trust Fund to support its construction of five multi-family affordable housing units on Hammett Court. The allocation was requested by the Church Community Housing Corporation and it will leave $60,000 in the fund, which annually receives $50,000 from the town.

In future business of note, the council will hear a wind turbine recommendation from consultant Harley Lee on March 19. Although it’s unknown if the council will vote on the recommendation at that meeting, a vote may – or may not – wrap up the interminable attempts to reach a decision on the proposed turbine.

In other future business, the council intends to reconcile the conflicts denying retired firefighters (and their widows) who don’t own property in Jamestown their incentive payments. Retirees who live in Jamestown have a choice of $700 worth of tax abatements or a $700 check. But Murphy said there is an out-of-town widow and a firefi ghter who haven’t received their checks and he demanded to know why. Under the town ordinance, the incentive checks may only be paid to Jamestown residents. Under a policy adopted by the council last July, residency is not required – and that’s the conflict that has to be resolved.

Finally, the council slated the town’s budget workshops for March 12 and 13. A date for the school budget workshop has yet to be determined, but it will probably be held during the first week of April.

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