3/14 Town Council Update
The following summarizes highlights from the 3/14/22 Town Council meeting. Be sure to check out the full agenda, which also includes links to documents from the Council’s packets, for a more comprehensive overview.
We heard from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) regarding their plans to fix the Silver Spring Lake Dam. The dam has a “high hazard” classification. Repairs will address structural issues including overgrown vegetation, cracked concrete, and bulging masonry walls. RIDEM assured the public there is no imminent risk of harm from structural collapse or other issues – and nor will there be once repairs begin. Repairs will have minimal impact to traffic, and traffic will not be disrupted from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Opening day for fishing will proceed as normal.
Budget season is upon us! The Town Manager introduced his proposed budget. His budget ensures North Kingstowners can enjoy the same level of programming and services we have come to expect, while minimizing impact to taxpayers during a state-mandated property revaluation year. Budget hearings have since concluded (on 3/18/22). Work will next continue with a budget hearing on 3/21/22 and a budget public hearing on 4/13/22. We encourage you to attend or livestream these meetings and to email the Council with your thoughts. Make your voice heard as we look to finalize and pass this critical document.
Next up, the Council authorized the town to apply for the Community Development Block Grant. We approved the Fire Chief’s request to allow building developers to utilize sprinkler systems in lieu of fire cisterns, in applicable cases, should they so choose. This could lessen economic impact to builders and homeowners while still ensuring fire safety.
Most consent agenda items passed without issue. These included a donation from National Grid for electric vehicle charging stations, among other items. However, there was some controversy regarding exhibition license requests from the local not-for-profit organization “Towards an Anti-Racist North Kingstown” (TANK). TANK applied to host a politically neutral event celebrating the history of voting rights, and a book fair showcasing local culturally and racially diverse authors. Councilors Mancini, Page, and I voted to uphold TANK’s first amendment rights to free speech and free assembly. I commended TANK for its demonstrated history on hosting family-friendly events to better our community, while encouraging those opposed to their anti-racist work to attend an event before forming an opinion. It’s important we engage with those we may perceive as different before drawing conclusions, for the sake of our community. Councilor Brimer dissented and walked away from the meeting for the vote due to “conscientious objection.” Councilor McKay followed suit. The phrase “conscientious objection” calls to mind the likes of Mohammad Ali refusing to fight in the Vietnam War more than it is typically applied to book fairs, but there you have it. This follows their long standing pattern of speaking out against TANK’s work to further Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in North Kingstown.
In a 5-0 bipartisan vote, the Council then passed a new-and-improved groundwater ordinance. Much has already been said (here and here), so I will be brief: this ordinance adopts the latest science and best practices from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the United States Geological Survey. North Kingstown has long been a leader in its water protection, as echoed by RIDEM and University of Rhode Island in recent weeks. Our town’s Conservation Commission and Groundwater Committee broadly supported the comprehensive ordinance - though there was some discussion over finer points - and noted it provided much-needed updates and enhanced protections. Our water director, Tim Cranston, was in close contact with the Land Conservancy of North Kingstown through the day of the vote to ensure full clarity. Congratulations to our award-winning, highly renowned water department for another landmark achievement in protecting our water supply.
The Council reviewed possible ways we might spend American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Town Manager Mollis had proposed a range of projects that were permissible under ARPA guidelines and which he felt best served the interests of our community. The Council’s vote did not finalize spending, but gives Mr. Mollis direction by allowing him to further explore options in the areas we recommend and, ultimately, go out to bid. The Council will then vote again before monies are spent on any items. The Council recommended we pursue the following: public safety complex preliminary soft costs, recreation center/emergency shelter, municipal office building improvements, community improvements to health and safety (new pickleball and volleyball courts, beach improvements relative to safety and accessibility, and public transportation including bike routes and misc safety and accessibility upgrades), West Main Street and Post Road sidewalk project, OPEB contribution, summer recreation program, and administrative cost, all together totaling over $7 million. Discussion will continue on how we can best allocate remaining funds.
The Council agreed to hold a hearing on renaming the Senior Center gardens "The Jules A. Cohen Gardens, and finished the 3/14 meeting by appointing Dan Swain to the Arts Committee.
--Town Councilor Katie Anderson