The Block Island Times
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Town to negotiate with Interstate

Agrees to BIHS contract
By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 12, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis

The Town Council at its meeting Monday, January 7, went into closed session to discuss plans to intervene in the Interstate Navigation rate filing.

Ferry company Interstate Navigation filed with the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission on November 27, 2012, for permission to collect an additional $1.3 million in revenue, money that would come from changes to the traditional ferry ticket pricing structure that would do away with discounts for year-round island residents and decrease car fees while increasing freight charges.

A unanimous vote resulted from the council’s closed session. First Warden Kim Gaffett motioned to authorize town consultants Richard LaCapra and Everett Shorey to contact Interstate with the hope of initiating negotiations.

LaCapra and Shorey would ask the ferry company to: earn a rate of return by moving to a revenue cap rather than a fixed-rate schedule, retain commuter rates and cards, add the high-speed ferries in the rate case, and maintain the current minimum off-season schedule.

While most discussion about the town’s plans to intervene in the rate case took place in closed session, councilor Sean McGarry offered a word to the audience before the closed session. He detailed a history of Interstate’s rate filings and the results, back to 1985.

“...In ’03 they applied for $2.7 million; they were allowed $1.4 million,” he said. “We’re going to be moving to stick with that pattern.”

Second Warden Ken Lacoste noted that he received many comments from concerned citizens — concerns that the council planned to address in the closed session.

Medical Center Management Agreement

After months of discussion between the Town Council and Block Island Health Services board regarding a management agreement between the two entities, the council voted Monday to accept the current draft of the agreement for a one-year term.

Later in the meeting, as the council made appointments to various committees, Lacoste was appointed to serve on the BIHS board as a town representative, replacing Millie McGinnes, who served for the past two years.

The management agreement calls for the BIHS board to follow certain provisions, though not all, of state Open Meetings Law. At past meetings, the town had called for the board to follow Open Meetings Law in its entirety, but the board demurred.

This management agreement requires the board to conduct meetings in open session except for closed session meetings allowed for by Open Meetings Law (i.e. for litigation). The board shall also provide the town a copy of open meeting minutes and post advance notice of meetings. Most discussion among BIHS board members via electronic communication such as email would be prohibited, although board members could participate in meetings via teleconference.

The contract term in the draft was for five years. Council member Norris Pike suggested the management agreement instead be in effect for six months, until June 1, 2013.

“That would allow the membership of the Block Island Health Services to vote on the Executive Committee, and I think there’s a lot of contention still in the community to bring forth,” he said.

He went on to explain that he feels that past Medical Center Executive Director Monty Stover, who resigned from that position in July, had been treated unfairly by the board. Pike also said that contributions to the Medical Center have “fallen off significantly” since Stover’s departure.

Other council members said that six months would be too short a period. First Warden Kim Gaffett said that some of the issues Pike brought up would be better handled by BIHS, not the council.

Gaffett motioned that the agreement be accepted for a one-year period, until January 1, 2014. It passed, 4-1, with Pike opposed.

The BIHS board would have to also agree on the management contract for it to take effect.

Despite more than 30 audience members in attendance for the council meeting, including some from the BIHS board, no one offered comments on the content of the management agreement.

Town-appointed roles

The council spent the majority of Monday’s meeting addressing appointments to town boards, commissions, committees and consultancy positions.

Among them was an open position for the Block Island Health Services board. Council member Norris Pike motioned to appoint Peter Saxon, who has also acted as Monty Stover’s legal advisor, to the BIHS board.

Lacoste spoke up, “Perhaps it should be someone closer to the council, if not a member of the council itself — it might be more prudent to have a direct line to the board.” Gaffett agreed with Lacoste, and Pike’s motion failed in a 1-4 vote.

But after discussion, no other council members except Lacoste were willing to serve on the BIHS board. Gaffett’s motion to appoint Lacoste passed unanimously.

There were pages of other appointments to handle. First, Gaffett made a motion to re-appoint all current town officials (town solicitors, probate judge, etc.), but McGarry objected, noting that she should recuse herself from discussion of her father, Lew Gaffett, being reappointed as town auctioneer.

Gaffett amended her motion and the group dealt with Lew Gaffett’s appointment separately.

Town councilors McGarry and Chris Warfel also voiced concerns about some of the town officials up for reappointment. Warfel said he was concerned about the charter flight costs for Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla. Gaffett said that could be an issue worked out with Merolla, separate from the appointment.

McGarry questioned the performance of Town Land Use Solicitor Donald Packer. Other council members disagreed with McGarry, commending Packer on his performance.

Ultimately, all town officials were reappointed — except Ray Torrey serving on the Washington County Regional Planning Council. Torrey retired from the Town Council, and Chris Warfel will now replace him to serve on the planning council.

The council also reappointed the majority of commission and board members. This was a lengthy discussion that took over an hour — board members discussed attendance records and qualifications of re-appointees, as well as the qualifications of new candidates.

New appointments are as follows: Bill McKernan and Lisa Sprague to the Deer Task Force; Rosemary Tobin to the Housing Board; Karen Duale and David Graham to the Old Harbor Task Force; John Spier to the Planning Board; and Susan Bush to the Zoning Board.

There was also some concern raised by audience member Bruce Montgomery that Gaffett did not recuse herself in the Spier appointment, as Spier is her brother-in-law. Gaffett argued that  she did not stand to gain financially from the vote. The motion passed 3-1, with McGarry abstaining from the vote because he felt Gaffett should have recused. Lacoste, who had backed another candidate, was the nay vote.

A vacancy remains on the Senior Advisory Committee.

Moped discussion

The council also discussed the use of Weldon’s Way for moped driver training. Moped rental companies generally use the road to observe potential renters and make sure they know how to operate the vehicle.

Warfel brought the point up at a past meeting that practicing on a town road could be dangerous and a potential liability for the town. He again urged the council to consider it, as he wrote in a letter that, “It appeared there was consensus on this.”

Indeed, all council members seemed to agree that this practice could be unsafe. Councilors discussed how the town could end testing on the road, yet still assist the moped dealers in finding a place to test drivers.

“I agree in principle,” said Gaffett. “The practicality of how we can help facilitate is where I think we need to go, because really we want them [the drivers] to be trained.”

Gaffett motioned to ask the police chief and Warfel to hold a discussion with moped dealers, asking them how the use of Weldon’s Way might be improved. The motion passed unanimously.

Miscellany

The council voted 4-1 to take no action on a Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) filing with the PUC. BIPCo applied to finance $566,400 toward the purchase of a generator engine. The purchase would not result in a ratepayer increase, but would be factored into the company’s capital budget.

Warfel was the one opposing vote; he had suggested that the town use this as an opportunity to ask BIPCo to work toward some renewable energy options. Other councilors did not agree, and argued that this would not be the time and place to do so.

McGarry presented two requests to the town Electric Utility Task Group (EUTG). He asked the EUTG to research what it would cost to perform two independent studies: one, the cost of a standalone electricity cable between the island and the mainland, and two, what role and costs BIPCo would have if Deepwater Wind’s standalone cable were no longer operational.

EUTG member Everett Shorey, who was in the audience, said that he would be willing to hear both requests.

McGarry also provided a report on wind energy tax credits, which have been extended as part of the federal “fiscal cliff deal.” (See related story). He explained that his original intention was to present the information prior to the extension of the tax credits, with hopes that the council members would write letters to state representatives. However, since the credits were approved, the Town Council instead engaged in a more general discussion about politics and the tax credits.

At the beginning of the council meeting, Police Chief Vin Carlone introduced a new addition to the town police force, Christopher Rich, who received a standing ovation from the audience. Carlone commended Rich for his dedication and performance during officer training.

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