2018-05-03 / Front Page

Town to reconsider $9.8M bond plan

Backlash from residents may sway council to separate into three votes

The controversial $9.8 million bond referendum, which would bundle three projects into a single question in November, will be revisited by the town councilors at their meeting Monday night.

A petition circulating in town, along with a barrage of letters to The Jamestown Press, has swayed the town to take another look at the measure. The petition asks the council to rescind the bond so voters can cast separate ballots on each proposal.

Town Administrator Andy Nota said Councilwoman Mary Meagher asked him Tuesday to include alternatives on the upcoming agenda.

“A petition to elected leaders is one of the most direct expressions of democracy that we have, so I welcome it and the folks who have worked hard to get all those signatures,” Meagher said. “We need to listen and consider their concerns.”

Meagher championed the so-called Jamestown Infrastructure Bond, which passed 4-1 along party lines at the April 2 council meeting. Councilman Blake Dickinson, the lone Republican, cast the dissenting vote. At the time, he called the decision “underhanded and sneaky.”

The bond asks voters to approve $5.9 million to repair the schools, $2.9 million to build a new clubhouse at the golf course and $1 million to upgrade the library. Dickinson said piggybacking the contentious clubhouse proposal onto a bond alongside necessary school repairs will force parents of schoolchildren to vote yes even if they oppose the clubhouse.

The petition was spearheaded by Tom Tighe, a former councilman who served two consecutive terms ending in 2016. According to fellow protester Nancy Beye, it has since garnered “hundreds of signatures.”

The drafted referendum needs legislative approval before the General Assembly recesses for the year. Enabling legislation on the $9.8 million bond referendum was scheduled for a hearing in both chambers, but Sen. Dawn Euer withdrew the bill last week while the House version was postponed at the request of Rep. Deb Ruggiero.

Nota is recommending a decision at the May 7 meeting so the measure can clear the hurdles needed for a question to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. While the legislative session typically ends by July, Nota said he does not feel comfortable waiting until the last minute.

“Once you get into June, it’s completely hit or miss on what gets addressed in Providence,” he said.

According to legislative spokeswoman Meredyth Whitty, both bills don’t have to pass to become law. All the town needs is for either Euer’s or Ruggiero’s version to make it through both chambers in the same form.

Although the plan to combine the bonds was not Nota’s idea, he said the approach is a regular occurrence in Rhode Island. For example, North Kingstown will have a $27 million referendum to address improvements at two dozen municipal sites. He did, however, say bundling is rare in Jamestown because projects typically have been spaced between one another in the past.

“The combining of bond questions has been practiced at both the state and local level,” he said. “That being said, the question format remains a purely local decision of the town, with the final decision being left in the hands of the town council.”

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