Residents continue paddleboard debate
Earlier, the councilors voted to allow Jamestown Outdoors, which is owned by islanders Jason and Beth Hatch, to set up an umbrella and rent boards for use in the western end of the beach away from the swimmers. The Parks & Recreation Department supported the venture. Recreation Director Bill Piva said individuals are already allowed to bring their own paddleboards to that area, and kayaking also has been allowed, with no problems.
But according to B.J. Whitehouse, Jamestown resident and member of the School Committee, the result has not been smooth sailing. Whitehouse explained he was speaking on behalf of his wife, Christine Ariel, whom he described as the lady who’s against the paddleboard rentals. Ordinarily, Whitehouse said, he is reluctant to represent his spouse’s views, but it happened he personally witnessed the problem with the paddleboards this weekend. At Mackerel Cove on Sunday, five paddleboards ran up on the beach along with a motorized dinghy, and not in the designated area.
“The lifeguard tried to deal with it,” Whitehouse said, but the people were uncooperative. He told the councilors his wife hopes the town will not continue to allow paddleboard rentals at the beach.
Speaking during the open forum, Whitehouse went on to a second subject, the plans for the new golf course building. He and several residents are interested in possible uses for the second floor. About 12 people met at his house over the weekend to talk about the building as a potential site for their community organizations. He urged the councilors to let people know as soon as possible about the public meetings, which are going to be held to discuss the design options.
“I would just encourage the council to do those things,” he said.
In other business, the councilors continued to wrestle with the issue of fees, permits and licenses that typically go before the council for a vote.
Councilor Eugene Mihaly has objected to this practice as a form of “harassment,” and said the council should discontinue nuisance fees.
But Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said the staff has reviewed the existing fees and is recommending no changes. He presented on one page a complete schedule of fees, which the town currently charges. The prices range from $400 for a Class A liquor license to 15 cents for copying a page of the council’s minutes.
Compared to other communities, Keiser said, Jamestown’s fees are in line with other Rhode Island municipalities, according to a 2007 report by the state office of municipal affairs.
The report is six years old, Keiser acknowledged, but he noted the trend statewide has been to increase these fees to offset revenue losses due to the sour economy and cutbacks in state aid.
Moreover, he said, the staff determined even though some fees are nominal, the procedure gives the town and public safety notice about potential problems.
“For example,” Keiser wrote in a memo to the council, “fees that are nominal and do not generate material revenue such as one-day peddler’s licenses and yard-sale permits nonetheless facilitate regulation of activities that have public impacts.”
He recommended waiting until next year when the budget is being developed and discussing any changes with each department. At that time, he added, the staff could take a fresh look at statewide practices since the 2007 study is dated.
Mihaly agreed to wait but stressed he feels strongly about these fees. Some charges may be justifiable, he said, but “some of these things are in the category of unnecessary intrusion.” Looking at the bottom line, the town coffers weren’t really being filled as a result of these fees.
“Right,” Keiser said.
However, Council President Kristine Trocki said the subject has come up repeatedly on the council agenda and added she was not sure why.
Mihlay said the reason was because the council had never made a decision either to continue with the fees or to drop them.
“I don’t want to license people to do things that shouldn’t be licensed,” he said.
One example, Councilor Mary Meagher said, would be requiring people to apply before the council for a $5 entertainment license after they have already gone to the rec department and paid $300 to rent the Fort Getty pavilion.
Meagher said the practice was not exactly user-friendly and suggested at least wrapping the fees together so people did not have to make two trips to rent the pavilion for an event.
In other business, Jamestown is about to go out to bid for a new recycling contract. Keiser and Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero finished editing the request for proposals per the council’s past instructions, and Finance Director Tina Collins said the next step would be to advertise in the Providence Journal.
Keiser said the advertisement is to collect recyclables from the municipal government, residential homes and the schools. The paperwork has also been reviewed by the public works director, the finance director and the recycling manager at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. However, the councilors indicated they want to see the actual document before it’s released.
That isn’t the standard practice, Keiser said, and cautioned the councilors not to discuss the bid documents for fear of creating an unfair advantage for a local company.
“We don’t release this to the public until all bidders see it simultaneously,” he said.
When Meagher said she thought the council members should be able to see the final version, Keiser said they could come into his office individually and examine the paperwork.
Trocki said she thought that would be fine.
“Normally, we don’t review the RFP before it goes out,” she said.
In this case, the council already reviewed the document and instructed Ruggiero to make changes.
But Meagher said she was still concerned because there has been so much controversy over the recycling contract.
Trocki asked Ruggiero if the councilors would have to wait until their next meeting to vote on the request and thus cause the advertisement to be delayed.
“Does it have to wait until the next council meeting to approve it?” she asked.
“No, you don’t have to approve it,” he said.
“Just to satisfy everybody’s concerns,” she said, “I would suggest splitting the baby.” Trocki said the councilors should go to Keiser’s office before Friday, review the request for proposals, mull it over for a couple of days, and then if no one had an objection, the town could send it out at the beginning of next week.