First work session reveals new council's direction
At a Town Council work session Wednesday afternoon, Finance Director Amy Land and Town Clerk Fiona Fitzpatrick walked the new, and returning, councilors through the town’s budgeting process and resources. But among the minutiae were harbingers of the direction this council will take in managing the town.
Large town maintenance projects, usually funded in the capital projects budget, captured their attention, and they raised questions about how items get there (the Planning Board chooses and prioritizes them). Sean McGarry, using the school façade as an example, asked if a portion of a project is put away for it one year, what happens the next year? Land replied that the voters get to decide whether or not to bank more money for it the next year, and so on, until the project can be funded. If several years pass without approval for funding, the money is returned to the town funds. Norris Pike, who recently served on the Planning Board, asked Land if projects on a 10-year capital plan could be bonded all at once. He noted that often projects are put on hold and “the wait outpaces the deterioration.” Chris Warfel also expressed concerns, pointing out the public boat ramp as a project in dire need of work. While Land thought the capital plan’s amount would be too small to be bonded, she indicated that private funding could be sought. Pike added the caveat that if the council goes this route, the projects should be bid out to locals. First Warden Kim Gaffett suggested a meeting with the Planning Board for further discussion and one has been scheduled for January 9 at 4 p.m.
During a discussion of community services, the standoff on the management agreement between Block Island Health Services and the town brought a call for action from Pike. Gaffett received a reply to the town’s outline of the agreement from the board, and said the two were far apart. She suggested a meeting. Pike wanted a council discussion first, with McGarry in agreement. “We’re going to head in a different direction,” McGarry said, calling for a five-person BIHS board. Gaffett prevailed on meeting with the BIHS board first, and a tentative date was set for Wednesday, December 12, at 4 p.m.
Needs of the Block island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad also were addressed during the community support discussion, including the fire/rescue barn, with Gaffett saying the council needs to meet with the groups. McGarry asked why the Coast Guard Station is in the same area of the budget, and wondered whether the town had considered putting in a well on the property.
Among the tasks ahead, Gaffett said, is to develop comments on Deepwater Wind for the Army Corps of Engineers and the CRMC. McGarry commented on that. “We need to decide whether we support it or not. I can assure you, I don’t,” he declared, adding that the proposed project has divided the community and a large proportion of the community does not want it. “They deserve to be heard,” he said. Warfel replied that he thought it was “late in the game to be doing that.”
Gaffett said right now the town has opportunity for comment. Looking through the council’s calendar, Gaffett suggested devoting a full meeting to Deepwater Wind on Dec. 18, with only shellfish licensing sharing the agenda.
In her presentation to the council, Fitzgerald demonstrated new features of the town’s website. The state has made it possible to easily upload documents to it, and now minutes and town ordinances, for example, are easily accessible not only to the council, but the public as well.