2018-03-08 / Front Page

Administration unveils $24.4M plan

Nearly $1M is earmarked for capital improvements

Administration unveiled a preliminary $24.43 million budget to the town councilors Monday night that falls just below the maximum 4 percent increase allowed by the state.

The proposed budget is $711,000 more than 2017-18, and the tax levy is increasing by 3.82 percent. The impact on the tax rate, according to Town Administrator Andy Nota, would be about 29 cents, which means the tax bill on a median half-million-dollar house would increase by $145. The lion’s share of that increase, roughly 24 cents, stems from increases at the school department.

Town Administrator Andy Nota, however, said the plan is in its beginning stages. “It’s an evolving document,” he said.

The following night, the councilors hosted their first budget workshop of the season. They delved into Nota’s capital improvement program, which is proposed to cost $996,200, or 11 percent less than this year. The department heads requested a total of $1.35 million in improvements, but Nota slashed about one-quarter of that.

“A concerted effort was made to restrict the capital program,” Nota said.

The biggest line item was $250,000 for paving, which proposes nearly 14,000 square yards of new asphalt. The streets scheduled for work include Grinnell Street, Rosemary Lane, Carr Lane, Beacon Avenue from Spirketing and Garboard, and Pemberton Avenue from Narragansett to Watson.

Other road improvements comprise the second-biggest line item ($140,000) for the third phase of the North Main Road reconstruction. There will be work on that road from Sloop Street to the North Reservoir, including upgrades to the catch basins and piping. There also will be construction of water quality basins and wetland plantings to treat storm water before it washes into the watershed.

The fire department has asked for $109,000 to bring its infrastructure and technology into the 21st century. That includes 18 portable radios to completely transition to the 800-megahertz system from the VHF units that date to the 1960s. According to Fire Marshal Howie Tighe, both Newport and North Kingstown, which provide mutual aid, use the 800-megahertz system, along with the police department.

“We are having a significant issue with our radio system,” he said. “This last phase would allow us to convert everything over.”

The second half of the department’s request is to begin converting from aerial cable to wireless radio boxes. Currently, the 70-year-old system relies on 17 square miles of cable attached to utility poles that connect to 63 master boxes and 33 street boxes.

The problems with this system, Tighe said, is the volunteer firefighter who maintains these wires is turning 90, which means the department would have to hire contractors for maintenance. Also, the cable, which is susceptible to heavy winds, would have to be replaced within 10 years. The new system would have no cabling and would connect directly to the police station’s dispatch center.

Also for public safety, Police Chief Ed Mello has requested a $41,000 cruiser. According to Nota, the vehicle in Mello’s fleet that needs to be replaced has about 140,000 miles on its odometer.

The library requested $100,000 in capital improvements, but Nota axed the entire bid because he said it would be better to borrow money for these projects as part of the facility’s renovation. These are necessary improvements, he said.

Mary Lou Sanborn, chairwoman of the library trustees, is expected to present her full proposal during the council’s March 19 meeting. Nota estimated a $1 million bond would be required.

Other requested money includes $75,000 for the Fort Getty coffers, which would go toward building the gatehouse once a design is approved; $18,000 to continue installing fiber network throughout town; $15,000 for the final phase of vault shelving in the clerk’s office; $10,000 to improve the soccer fields on Eldred Avenue; $15,000 for rake and posthole digger attachments for the parks department’s Kubota tractor; and $20,000 to upgrade soundproofing and the HVAC system at the senior center.

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