Q & A + more at Feb. 7 Council Mtg.
Updated: Jun 18
This meeting, held via zoom, was long, but productive.
Discussion of Legislative Priorities with the NK Legislative Delegation
The Council welcomed senators Bridget Valverde and Alana DiMario and representatives Robert Craven and Julie Casimiro.
North Kingstown is one of the few remaining municipalities that owns its own water department. The council wants to make sure that the $300 million in water infrastructure funds that the state received from the federal bipartisan infrastructure act are not usurped by the larger quasi-government water entities, so it asked the delegation to work with the council in securing the town’s fair share of these monies and the delegation agreed to do so.
The council and the delegation also congratulated Ryan Lukowicz for being the 1st blind page in this history of the general assembly. Another NK resident making a positive impact in our state!
Annual Audit report Presentation
Independent audit Marcum, LLP made a presentation that reviewed the Town’s 2021 financial statement and audit results. Our total fund balance increased by $2.6 million last year for a total unassigned fund balance of $12.8 million, which according the auditor is a “healthy target”. The school department’s fund balance is $5.2 million, which is 7.4% of their operating budget. That was a $1 million increase. The water department has a net position of $13.6 million of which $8 million is unrestricted; the Sewer Department has a net position of $245,000; and NK Golf/Allen Harbor Marina’s fund has a net deficit of $1.66 million. Town pension obligations are strictly regulated by state law, which tells how much we have to contribute to these obligations. Currently our general employee plan is 74% funded; our police and fire funds are 70% funded, and our teacher fund is 54% funded.
Most importantly, there were NO findings or recommendations this year. Accordingly, the auditor issues a “clean” opinion. It is commendable that town staff, the audit committee, their chair Richard August, and Marcum, LLP completed this audit in such a timely fashion despite the historic challenges of COVID. Congratulations to all involved.
Presentation by the Asset Management Commission
Asset Commission chair Ed Cooney reported that the commission met 4 times over the past year and spent countless hours developing their plan. The received presentations from Public Safety, Public Works, Recreation, the school and water departments to hear what their needs are. The town manager and finance director also made presentations. From that, the commission developed priority rankings for enterprise and non-enterprise fund assets, the school department, and town departments. They also recommended that the town take an inventory of all facilities, create an asset protection fund, and develop and place greater emphasis on a 5 year capital improvement plan for town capital assets.
Alcoholic Beverage License: The council unanimously voted to grant a class BL license to Pizza Vida, 677 Boston Neck Road, and hold a public hearing to add a class BL license that, if approved, may be awarded to Linx Golf, 6657 Post Road.
Second Reading of an amendment to 21-96 for Wickford Junction:
According to our town planner, Nicole LaFontaine, the proposed amendments to 21-96 for Wickford Junction:
Only affect the Wickford Junction District, which originally was a gravel pit
Do not approve or deny any project
Allow for high density housing with easy access to major roads and commuter rail
Now align with the goals of our comprehensive plan
Require any developer to comply with existing nitrate loading requirements
She also said that there is a proposed project that received conditional master plan approval from the Planning Commission that would be able to move forward if these amendments pass. That project:
Still has a number of conditions that are yet to be satisfied
Complies with our town comprehensive plan
offers 15% affordable housing, and
Still needs to be given final approval by the planning commission. She noted that final approval will contain conditions that will allow for local town control over the septic and require the developer to properly maintain it.
According to Tim Cranston of our town water department, the original septic system was installed at full-buildout size and the system is not currently working at the appropriate capacity for its size. Meaning that the flow-through has not been sufficient for the system to operate properly. The system has also not been properly maintained and the state has not provided proper oversight.
If this ordinance is amended, the project will go back to the planning commission and when it does will insert a number of conditions to ensure that the septic is working and will work in the future. These protections include requiring the developer to:
Hire and utilize a properly qualified operator of the septic
Hire a qualified alternative operator to be ready if the initial operator fails for some reason
Submit to regular testing
Insert monitoring wells, all to ensure that the septic is properly working.
The town and planning commission will also insert penalties for noncompliance. This is actually a good opportunity to “better manage” a system with a history of problems. And if the project ultimately moves forward then the flow-through will be at a rate that will make the septic work properly.
Mr. Cranston also said that since the septic is outside the wellhead and leach field protection area, there will be “no impact to our drinking water” because the surface water systems are far enough away. Mr. Peter Hanson, an engineer hired by the developer, also said that the septic is not in the well head project area.
General questions (in italics below) from the public, that were received by Town Council members via email, with answers in boldface, included:
A fear that the existing septic system will not work and/or will contaminate our water supply. According to both our town water department expert Tim Cranston and the developer’s engineer Mr. Jeffery Hanson, the existing septic system is not in our wellhead protection area, so our water supply will not be contaminated.
A concern that new development would create too much traffic. The developer’s expert Todd Brayton, a professional engineer from Bryant Associates, who conducted a traffic study, testified before the planning commission that there will be “minimal impacts and delays on the existing level of service at the site.” His determination was accepted by staff and the planning commission.
Concerns about the monitoring plans for this development and a potential lack of penalties for noncompliance. According to the written decision of the planning commission, the commentary of Tim Cranston of the water department, and the commitment of the developer, this project will only be approved if the developer agrees to allow regular monitoring of the septic system. The monitoring will allow the town to shut it down if there is noncompliance forthwith. The planning commission approval decision will also impose penalties for potential noncompliance.
Why shouldn’t the town require the developer to put in a new septic system? The developer’s engineer Mr. Hanson said that there is no need because the existing system is excellent--in fact it was designed for, and will function better at, precisely the larger capacity that this development will achieve.
At the hearing, 6 members of the public spoke. The council allowed hearing witnesses to respond directly to the questions from the public. Here are their comments and questions, with answers in boldface:
John Dexter asked who is responsible for monitoring the groundwater and who will determine potential penalties. According to Tim Cranston, the town will require an independent environmental testing company to complete the testing. He further stated that the town and the planning commission will ultimately determine the penalties.
Rickey Thompson asked what maps the town was using to determine that the septic is not in the protected well-head area, what happens if the system fails knowing that it would be impractical to shut it down; and whether the system will have the capacity to accommodate the expected system use. According to Tim Cranston, the town just received updated maps from DEM. Mr. Cranston and the developer acknowledged that it would be impracticable to shut down the septic if it was not working; and the developer’s engineer estimated the project system capacity at 23,480 gallons per day (maximum capacity is 28,000 gallons per day). He also said that, regardless of what he predicts, the system will ultimately have to be vetted, permitted, and approved by DEM.
Tom Sgouros said he knows that the town council cannot stop the town from growing and that placement of this project is appropriate. However, if there are not monitoring and preventive measures in place, the project is not worth the risk. Mr. Cranston said that the developer will be required to hire an independent company to monitor so that any deficiencies can be addressed in real time, and that if the developer does not address them, there will be severe penalties.
Kathleen Guarino said she is worried that the developer will not abide by their obligations; worried that the leach field is too close to the septic; that our current water supply is stressed; and how far will these amendments extend to. In this matter the planning commission’s decision will require independent monitoring and penalties for non-compliance, which did not previously occur. According to Tim Cranston, this system is not near protected well heads; there is no evidence of contamination of the groundwater by this septic; the town has taken down some wells in order to make changes to our water infrastructure to be more efficient; we are still are able to generate 7 million gallons a day and our community needs 3 million gallons per day, accordingly we have “plenty of capacity”; and, according to town planner Nicole LaFontaine, this project only includes the Wickford Junction Zoning District. It does not cross Ten Rod Road and it does not extend further east on Ten Rod Road.
Jason Bergonstock asked whether the F1 discharge adversely affect Well 6; whether our water capacity is 8 million gallons a day; and, he thinks the project will yield 30,000 gallons a day into the septic, and if so, what are the developer’s contingency plans to deal with that. According to Tim Cranston whatever is going on has nothing to do with Well 6. He agreed that our capacity is 8 million per day and that is due to our infrastructure, not water supply. Mr. Hanson said that the developer plans on using empirical data to analyze the use under DEM guidelines to determine use; and, that there is adequate area to use for expansion if necessary. However, in his professional opinion that will not be necessary.
Jim Grundy complimented Tom Sgouros for his informative post on this matter. This project provides a tremendous amount of local control to ensure that the system is maintained in a proper condition as well as being consistent with our comprehensive plan. This project also requires 15% affordable housing. Grundy pointed out that by slightly increasing the number of affordable units, the developer can go to the state housing appeals board, which would take all local control away from the project itself, including any septic monitoring requirements. So, for the sake of local control and compliance with our comprehensive plan he supports the proposed amendments.
Following discussion, the amendments to 21-96 for Wickford Junction passed unanimously in a bipartisan vote.
Town Manager Report
The Town Manager reported that he is regularly participating in a number of meetings with the state to monitor COVID as well as to determine procedures that will need to be in place within our town to ensure our community’s safety. He is also working on our upcoming budget for fiscal 2023. At the direction of the town council, he reached out to the state DOT to request that the state reanalyze the Post Road “diet”. The DOT did so and reported back that the diet is working. We are experiencing about the same amount of traffic as when it was instituted and the number of high-risk injury crashes has been cut by half.
The council unanimously made the following appointments:
Captain John MacCoy for appraiser of dog damages
Eleanor Acton, Gail Burda, Nancy Sherman, Donna Vanderbrook, Gerry Grabowski, Nora Hall, and Roberta Belanger to the Arts Council, and asked that the Arts Council consider expanding in order to allow Dan Swain to be added as well.
Noreen Bamford to the Board of Canvassers
Meg Kerr to the Conservation Commission
Eric Collins, Keith Finck, Kay Ho, and Eric Wilcox to the Harbor Management Commission
Eric Wishart to Quonset Development Board
Jan Peter Morgan to be Tree Warden
Fredrick Pennoyer, Douglas Somers, and Mary Ellen Madison to the Parades Committee and asked that the Parades Committee expand their membership to allow Randy Wietman to be appointed as well.
Jeff Shapiro to the Wickford Advisory Committee
The above recap was written by Greg Mancini, NK Town Council President.