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The Beaver River Valley Community Association was founded in 2018 by concerned property owners and residents for the purpose of protecting the rural character and historic and natural resources that define our community.  Read more...

Our beautiful town is being threatened by the encroachment of industrial-scale, commercial solar installations by developers.   We must work together to protect our scenic vistas, open fields, farmlands and cultural landscapes.  Read more...

IMPORTANT UPDATE!

Modest Tax Increase in Proposed Town Budget

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 29th 2024

RICHMOND – The process of preparing the town’s budget has begun, and it will be the budget exercise for Finance Director Laura Kenyon, who recently announced that she will be retiring in May. Kenyon has served as the town’s Finance Director for five years.

 

Dubbed the “Town Administrator” budget, because Town Administrator Karen Pinch will present it to the Town Council, the Fiscal year 2024-25 spending plan is far from final. Members of the town’s Finance Board held their first meeting to discuss the proposed budget only recently, on Feb. 26.

 

Municipal vs Chariho

 

The budget has two distinct components: municipal, which the town controls and education, over which it has little control.

“Very little has changed on the municipal side of the budget on the expense side,” Kenyon said. “The Chariho budget, the town has very little say as to what the dollar amounts are going to be, so we just put those into our budget.”

The Chariho budget is expected to change. The amount of state aid to the school district will not be known until the General Assembly approves the state budget in June. In addition, the outcome of a proposal to borrow up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools to replace the district’s four aging school buildings is in doubt, facing stiff opposition, particularly in Richmond and Hopkinton.

Richmond’s proposed budget contains just under $22 million for schools, an increase of $233,799 over the current year. Recently, however, the school committee added funds back into the Chariho budget for repairs to Hope Valley Elementary School, so Kenyon said the final figures are still to be determined.

“They’re still not set in stone,” she said. “We’re still waiting for the Governor’s budget to be approved, and we’re still waiting for the School Committee and the residents to vote on the school budget.”

 

Property Taxes

 

The proposed budget contained good news for homeowners, a decrease in the property tax rate, from the current rate of $14.75 to $14.68. But that changed when the School Committee returned $437,000 to the Chariho budget for repairs to Hope Valley Elementary School. That amendment will result in a slight increase in the property tax rate, to $14.80.

Disgruntled taxpayers have stated, incorrectly, that taxes have increased by 80% over the past decade.

After conducting an analysis of town budgets from 2012 to 2024, Kenyon said it was important to make a distinction between the municipal budget as a whole, and that portion that comes from property taxes. While municipal budgets have increased by 81%, taxes have increased by only 29%.

“The municipal budget has increased from $4.2 million in Fiscal year 12 to $7.7 million in 2024, which is an increase of $3.5 million, or 81%, however, revenue from taxes has gone from $15.8 million to $20.3 million for an increase of $4.5 million, which is a 29 % increase in taxes,” Kenyon said.

“The taxes haven’t gone up that much,” Town Council President Mark Trimmer added. “It’s unfortunate for the town employees that the wages haven’t gone up that much, either. The only advantage we have to offer anyone is that it’s a low-stress environment, and that’s changed with the new politics in town, which is really unfortunate. And so, we’re going to continue to lose people.”

Kenyon’s analysis can be viewed on the town’s website under the tab: “Budget Analysis FY-12 to FY-24.”

 

The Municipal Budget

 

The municipal budget, at the time of this writing, will be $7.9 million, an increase of $192,789 or 2%. That total includes $1.8 million in state aid, $3.9 million in town taxes, and a fund balance, or surplus, of $309,948, or 16.2%. The town could tap into the fund balance if the expected state aid, either to Chariho or to the town, is significantly reduced, but it is standard practice to maintain a fund balance of two months of reserve, or 16.6%, so there isn’t much leeway.

There have been no new hires, but other factors have contributed to an increase in personnel costs: A 3% cost of living increase on wages, and an increase of 10% in the cost of health and dental benefits.

 

Operating Expenses

 

The town has budgeted an additional $8,000 for legal services for the upcoming police contract negotiations, but by far the biggest increase has been the cost of electricity, which has gone from $.06 per kilowatt hour to $.12.

“One of the major increases in this year’s operating budget is the doubling of cost for electricity,” Pinch said.

Pinch also noted that the budget for upcoming elections will also increase.

 “With this being a presidential election year, in addition to local races and referenda, our costs for election officials has increased significantly,” she said. “This is compounded by the mandate for 20 days of early voting for some of these.”

The town’s budget for election officials is $14,050, a 140% increase over the current year. The budget for election supplies, such as ballots, has increased by 200% to $1,500.

 

 

Capital Improvement Plan

 

The capital budget is level funded at $9,570,864.

The budget allocates $2.5 million for road repairs, which are funded by a voter-approved bond. Debt service on the bond is $300,000. The other large capital expenses are $529,694 for public works equipment replacement and $102, 847 for the replacement of police vehicles.

 

Trimmer said he was grateful to town employees for keeping expenses down.

“It’s a very lean budget…and I feel that our town employees are incredibly responsible and frugal when it comes to spending money,” he said. “With unfunded [state] mandates, it does cost more to run a town than it used to, but we’ve found work-arounds and we still run like a small town, which is a good thing.”

 

The Budget Timeline

 

March 5: Public hearing, Chariho Budget

April 9: Chariho budget referendum

April 10: Town Council budget workshop

April 16: Budget public hearing

May 7: School bond referendum

May 8: Budget public hearing

June 3: Richmond budget referendum

Nassaney Ethics Complaint Tossed, Colasante Probe Extended

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 27th 2024

PROVIDENCE – Members of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted during the executive session of their Feb. 27 meeting to dismiss a complaint against Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney. They also voted to extend the investigation period for a complaint against council member Michael Colasante, in order to investigate in greater depth the allegations against him.

 

The Nassaney Complaint

 

The commission’s Feb. 8, 2024 Investigative Report, summarizes the complaint by Nell Carpenter in Sept. 2023.

Carpenter alleged that Nassaney had violated the Rhode Island Code of Ethics when he participated in council discussions regarding a complaint to the town by Pasquale Farms Garden Center against the electrical inspector at the time, Jeffrey Vaillancourt.

The violation involved Nassaney’s bottled sauces, and his sale, in Oct. 2022, of two cases of the sauce to Pasquale Farms to sell at the garden center.

 

The Vaillancourt Connection

 

Pasquale Farms’ owner, Lauren Pasquale, and her husband Frank, first encountered Vaillancourt when they decided to expand their operation and required an electrical inspection in order to obtain a license from the town to hold music and food truck events.

Frank Pasquale complained to the town that Vaillancourt had used vulgar language and made inappropriate comments when he went to the garden center to discuss the upgrades. Pasquale asked the town to assign another inspector, and the town sent Michael Rosso, who issued the permit for the required minor electrical upgrades.

(It should be noted that following additional complaints about his comportment, Vaillancourt was dismissed at the Jan. 30, 2024 council meeting. Rosso is now the town’s Electrical Inspector.)

The Town Council discussed Pasquale Farms matter, as well as a second complaint about Vaillancourt from another local business, during the executive session of the June 6, 2023 council meeting. When the council returned to open session, councilor Samantha Wilcox made a motion, which Nassaney seconded, to terminate Vaillancourt. But after further discussion, Nassaney seconded another motion, made by Michael Colasante, to extend Vaillancourt’s probation rather than dismiss him.

 

The Ethics Commission’s investigation concluded that the case did not meet the criteria to establish a violation of the Code of Ethics because:

  • Nassaney would have to have an established business relationship with Pasquale Farms during the period in which Vaillancourt’s behavior was called into question and he did not.

  • He would have had to have taken what the commission calls “official action” that would have financially benefitted Pasquale Farms, which he did not take.

  • There was no contract between Nassaney and Pasquale Farms.

 

The Commission issued the following conclusion, stating that,

 “… no conflict of interest exists when a prior business relationship between a public official and a private party has ended, and there is no ongoing or specific business relationship between the parties. In determining whether a relationship between two parties constitutes an ongoing business association, the Commission examines the nature of the association, the scope of the business dealings between the parties, and whether the parties are conducting ongoing business transactions, have outstanding accounts, or there exists an anticipated future relationship.”

 

There was no ongoing business relationship between Nassaney and Pasquale Farms on June 6, 2023, when Nassaney participated in a council discussion about Vaillancourt’s conduct at Pasquale Farms.

 

The Decision

 

Commission Chair, Marisa Quinn, read the decision when the commission returned to open session.

“The commission voted 6-0 to find that there does not exist probable cause to believe that the respondent, Richard Nassaney, a member of the Richmond Town Council, violated Rhode Island General Laws § 36-14-5(a), 5(d), or Commission regulation 1.2.1(A)(2) by participating in voting in a disciplinary hearing on June 6, 2023 regarding the town’s electrical inspector,” she stated. “The complaint is dismissed, with prejudice.”

 

(“With prejudice” means that the decision is final and the plaintiff, in this case, Nell Carpenter, cannot file the same complaint again.)

 

Nassaney said after the hearing that he was relieved to hear the decision.

“Going, in, you’re always concerned, because you never know what the commission is going to say or do,” he said. “But in my heart, I knew I was going to be exonerated.”

Nassaney noted that this was the ninth ethics complaint Carpenter has filed against him, and all of them have been dismissed.

 

The Colasante Complaint Warrants Further Investigation

 

The Ethics Commission has 180 days to complete investigations of ethics complaints, but members can approve extensions, if there is “good cause.” In the case of councilor Michael Colasante, the commission has decided that there is good cause, and has chosen to further investigate two complaints, one filed by council President Mark Trimmer and the second by council Vice President Richard Nassaney.

 

Trimmer’s Complaint Against Colasante

 

Trimmer’s complaint, filed in Sept. 2023, alleges that former electrical inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt had an “ongoing business relationship” with Colasante and was doing electrical work at Colasante’s Buttonwoods Road sawmill. Colasante argued that that no money had changed hands, however, the business relationship continued during the period when the council held two disciplinary hearings on Vaillancourt’s behavior, hearings from which Colasante refused to recuse himself, and actively participated and voted.

 

Nassaney’s Complaint Against Colasante

 

Filed in Nov. 2023, Nassaney’s complaint states that Colasante had a business relationship with D’Ambra Construction in Aug. 2023, when he voted to award a contract for the paving of North Road to D’Ambra. Not long after the vote, during the first week of September, a truck from Richmond Sand and Stone, a company owned by D’Ambra, delivered material for a retaining wall to Colasante’s property on Buttonwoods Road.

 

D’Ambra trucks were observed on the Colasante property on Oct. 13, and at the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante voted to award another paving contract, this time for Tug Hollow Road, to D’Ambra. On Oct. 18, the day after the paving contract was awarded to D’Ambra, Nassaney’s complaint states the company was observed at Colasante’s Buttonwoods property “installing the retaining wall material and grading his property for a future driveway.”

 

Commission Chair Marisa Quinn read the decision to extend the investigation beyond 180 days.

“The commission voted 6-0 to find that the record was established that good cause exists and to grant the prosecution’s motion to enlarge time for investigation, first extension of 60 days to May 11, 2024 to conclude the investigation, conduct a probable cause hearing and issue related findings,” she said.

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New Rail Study Raises New Fears

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 24th 2024

Residents of Southern Rhode Island and Southeastern Connecticut believed that they had prevailed in 2017, after working together to defeat an Amtrak proposal that would have brought tracks through the centers of several historic communities, farms and open space. But the issue of increasing passenger rail speed and capacity remains unresolved, and Amtrak will soon embark on a new study to determine the needs of the region. Despite promises of community engagement, residents and officials still worry that, like the mythical Phoenix, the Kenyon-Old Saybrook bypass may rise again.

 

Richmond was one of the towns that opposed the bypass route. At the Jan. 17, 2017 Town Council meeting, councilors endorsed neighboring Charlestown’s resolution opposing the plan.

The proposed route of the bypass would have had significant impacts on the Pawcatuck River, now designated by the National Park Service as “Wild and Scenic.” The new tracks would have crossed the Biscuit City fishing area, eliminating both the parking space and river access. Several additional neighborhoods, such as Lewiston Avenue, would have been affected. A more detailed description of the impacts in Richmond can be found here.  

The bypass proposal, opposed by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, was shelved, but now, a new study has rekindled fears that there will be a renewed effort to route high-speed trains through southern RI.

 

What is Amtrak Planning?

 

The Federal Railroad Administration has received up to $4 million in federal funding to conduct the “New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study,” or CPS, to find ways to improve rail service and increase rail capacity between New Haven and Providence.  A copy of the introduction to the study, obtained by BRVCA, differentiates the new CPS from the previous, ill-fated study that included the Kenyon – Old Saybrook bypass. This time, the stated goal of the new study will be to minimize “effects on both the natural and human built environments.”

Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, who represented Rhode Island during the 2017 study, was opposed to the Kenyon – Old Saybrook bypass proposal. Asked to comment on the new study, RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said requests should be directed to Amtrak, so BRVCA contacted the rail company.

Amtrak’s Senior Public Relations Manager, Jason Abrams, said the Federal Railroad Administration has determined that rail and automobile traffic between the northeastern cities is approaching, or has already returned to pre-COVID levels, and is expected to continue to grow.

“Through the NEC (Northeast Corridor) FUTURE planning process, which was completed in July 2017 with the publication of a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has defined a long-term vision for the future role of passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC).,” Abrams explained in an emailed response. “This vision supports the projected population and employment growth in the region by upgrading aging infrastructure and expanding capacity along the NEC. To achieve this vision, the FRA has defined an incremental approach which includes the New Haven to Providence CPS as a key component. The CPS will consider both improvements to the existing intercity passenger rail alignment through the study and new alignment segments.”

The introduction to the CPS study states that the new initiative will provide an opportunity to “conduct a robust and inclusive public outreach effort to understand the needs of local communities.”

Abrams confirmed that community engagement in the process would be a priority this time.

“Based on the lessons learned from the prior planning work, the New Haven to Providence CPS will employ an inclusive, innovative approach to outreach and community engagement in partnership with all relevant stakeholders, residents, and businesses,” he said. “The outcome will be a strategy to address the long-term mobility and economic development of the study area while being mindful of critical historical, resiliency, and community development issues. Upon conclusion, a Final Report will be prepared with the results of public outreach and community engagement; the alternatives analysis of potential rail alignment, infrastructure, and operational options between New Haven and Providence; and next steps.”

Abrams also noted that any needed improvements identified during the course of the study would be subjected to further public consultation.

“The implementation of infrastructure improvements identified through this process will be subject to additional planning, design, and community engagement,” he said. “Our intent will be to develop any proposed improvements in close coordination with local communities and stakeholders, to develop solutions that are acceptable to those groups and that attempt to address a wide range of issues. We are committed to making the outreach and planning processes inclusive and continuous to avoid surprising local communities with ideas and concepts that they have not been involved in creating.”

 

The new study also states that Amtrak does not intend to “return to previously proposed alignments,” which means the controversial 2017 rail proposal is probably dead. Asked whether Amtrak might, in the future, consider reviving the bypass, Abrams said,

“At this point, we have not formally initiated the study and cannot comment on which specific ideas, concepts, and solutions will be included or not included. However, it is important to note that we are aware of the concerns expressed about some of the NEC FUTURE proposals and are determined to learn from the project's history.”

 

Is the Kenyon-Old Saybrook Bypass Really Dead? What Might Replace it?

 

In Charlestown, where officials remain wary of Amtrak’s plans, Town Council President Deborah Carney will introduce a resolution at the Feb. 26 Town Council meeting opposing any consideration of a possible revival of the bypass. Carney wrote the resolution with Charlestown dairy farm owner and bypass opponent, Kim Coulter. The old bypass, including a tunnel, would have cut through her farm.

“I pulled the resolution from 2017 and Kim Coulter and I are reviewing it for current relevancy, to see if there’s anything we need to change, or amend in that resolution, and I will put that draft copy, along with the backup information, for the February 26 Town Council, just so we’re officially on the record in stating our opposition to our United States Senators and Representatives to any resurgence of the Old Saybrook-Kenyon bypass,” she said.

Carney noted that Charlestown officials were making an effort to go on record now with their opposition.

“We are remaining very diligent, and trying to stay on top of everything as best we can,” she said. “That’s why we are going officially on the record with our senators and representatives, so if anything comes up, they know this is where we still stand in the process.”

 

The resolution, which at the time of this publication, was still to be approved by council members, reads in part:

“WHEREAS the scope of this project and the impact of the route on the Town of Charlestown would have: Destroyed dozens of private homes; decimated the historic mill villages of Burdickville, Columbia Heights and Kenyon; crossed land owned by the Narragansett, a federally recognized Indian Tribe; fragmented historic and active farmland; fragmented the Francis Carter Preserve, a major land holding of The Nature Conservancy along the Pawcatuck River; and passed through and/or destroyed numerous publicly and privately owned open space otherwise protected in perpetuity;”

“WHEREAS the Capacity Planning Study is an alternative analysis to identify and evaluate; new potential rail alignment alternatives; improvements to existing rail lines; focused on the project planning phase; an opportunity to conduct a robust and inclusive public outreach effort and to understand the needs of local communities; and WHEREAS the Capacity Planning Study is not a direct continuation of NEC FUTURE. It is not a return to previously proposed alignments; and WHEREAS the Town of Charlestown seeks to make it known to all that the Town is opposed to any revival of the Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass.”

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown hereby opposes a revival of the Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass; and a Packet Pg. 91 Attachment: Resolution-FRA-draft (10158 : Resolution Opposing FRA Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass) 2 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Clerk is hereby authorized to send a copy of this resolution to U.S. Senator Jack Reed, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Seth Magaziner, Governor Dan McKee, and Narragansett Indian Tribe Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton.”

 

Lingering Issues

 

The original Kenyon-Old Saybrook bypass surprised many residents with the lack of awareness of its significant impacts on the Connecticut towns of Old Lyme, Mystic and Stonington and in Rhode Island, Charlestown, Richmond and Westerly. The bypass was not endorsed in the final Record of Decision, issued in July, 2017, but it is important to keep in mind that solutions for the New Haven to Providence route remain unresolved, and the new CPS, which is expected to begin this spring, will be completed in 18 to 24 months.

 

Even before the study begins, Amtrak has reiterated its commitment to “continued stakeholder outreach,” and representatives of the communities that might be affected are waiting to be invited to the table.

Charlestown Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner, who found out about the old bypass proposal while watching the news on television, said that while the bypass had been removed from the final decision, Amtrak was still required to increase its capacity.

“They have to increase capacity, they have to increase speed,” she said. “So, that means that the solution that was in there before, the bypass, was taken out, but nothing was put in its place and the solution that was offered, the problem that it was solving, is still there.”

Platner described two possible alternate routes. One route mostly follows Interstate 95, like the old bypass. The second route goes inland.

“One of the possibilities was the inland route that went from New Haven to Hartford and then to Providence,” she said. “That was also incredibly destructive, in that it would go through western Rhode Island, and the western border of Rhode Island is undeveloped and it’s incredibly important for a wildlife corridor, a climate corridor for wildlife, and it’s currently has a lot of preserved land, so it’s very similar to Charlestown.”

Neither Amtrak nor the Connecticut Department of Transportation appears to favor the inland route, however, Platner said she didn’t know what a rejection of the inland route might mean.

“There’s no information being passed back and forth between the people who are doing the planning and the communities, and that’s what missing,” she said.

Amtrak’s insufficient public outreach in 2016 and 2017 has left residents and officials in eastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island skittish about what might come next. Although the Capacity Planning Study will not even launch until the spring, Platner said Amtrak should be communicating with stakeholders now.

“I don’t believe that they’re doing anything wrong,” she said. “I have no knowledge that anything has happened, but because they had such a failed public process before, and because what they proposed was so devastating to the environment, historic resources, to people’s homes, they ought to want to start with a very public engagement with a really open process, because people will assume, and I assume, that they don’t have any other ideas, because I’ve only heard of two, and one has been taken off the table. So if they have another idea, no one knows what it is, and again, the people in the path of that other idea ought to know, too.”

Another DEM Grant for Shannock Village

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 21st 2024

RICHMOND – The Shannock Mill project has received a third grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for the remediation of contamination at the site. The latest $350,000 grant follows two previous grants, of $429,000 and $235,280, from the state’s Brownfield and Economic Development program.

Property owner and developer Jeffrey Marlowe, of Newport, lived in one of the houses on the property when he was in his 20s. As his appreciation grew for the historic and aesthetic qualities of the village, Marlowe began buying and rehabilitating the old houses. In 2013, with guidance from Geoffrey Marchant, who at the time was Director of the Community Development Consortium, Marlowe spearheaded the $1.7 million modernization of the Shannock Water District water system. Then, in 2020, he purchased the mill property at the center of the village.

Marlowe’s plan is to build market rate and affordable housing and small-scale businesses, abutting a public green space by the river. The project aligns with several state priorities.

“This just hits a lot of them, you know?” Marlowe said. “It cleans up a brownfield, environmental justice in an otherwise low to mod affordable housing community. … Shannock’s always been a working - class neighborhood and the buzzword these days is, of course, ‘workforce housing’ and Shannock was always workforce housing.”

Shannock Mill is expected to qualify for a greater density of housing units, because of its affordable housing component.

“Any residential units you build under new construction, 25% of those would have to be deeded affordable housing. When I say ‘deeded,’ I mean 30 years deeded,” Marlowe explained. “We really haven’t gotten into this at the town level yet. There’s been a change of planning officers there.”

Two mills once anchored the site: the Clark Cotton Mill/Columbia Narrow Fabrics Company built in 1848 in the center of the village, and to the West, the Carmichael Mill complex, rebuilt in 1885 after a fire destroyed the original structure.  

The mill buildings and several additional structures, which had been vacant for 50 years, were unsalvageable. Marlowe’s crew razed those buildings, a project that was complicated by the permits required for asbestos abatement and demolition. Despite the  largely undeveloped state of the site, the Horseshoe Falls dam and the Pawcatuck River flowing past the property give the village an undeniable charm. Shannock Village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

The Wood-Pawcatuck watershed was designated in 2019 as “Wild and Scenic” by the National Park Service, and the Shannock Mill project enjoys the support of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association. Members of the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council stopped by recently, to meet with Marlowe and hear an update on his progress.

 

The Remediation Continues

 

The challenge now facing Marlowe’s team is removing the remaining oil-contaminated soil. Efforts to work with Amtrak to remediate an adjacent contaminated parcel it owns have been unsuccessful.

“We ended up getting huge impact crushers on-site to crush up a lot of the cement,” Marlowe said. “These were the piers that were in the floor of the mill that they used to anchor all the weaving and looms to. The only buildings that are remaining are the turbine room building and the adjacent cut stone granite foundation. … Originally, the mill was sited there and they had a turbine located there for mechanical power. It was all belt drive at one point, then they put in a new hydropower turbine that then was electrified - the mill.”

 

Housing and Commercial Plans

 

Two recently-completed affordable housing projects, Richmond Ridge in Richmond and Shannock Village, just over the line in Charlestown, are very close to Shannock Village.

“Richmond dropped their Richmond Ridge in over there, 32 units, and then, Charlestown dropped in the Shannock Village Cottages, 11 units, and I know there’s concern,” Marlowe said, noting that Shannock Mill will offer both market rate and affordable housing.

“We don’t want to throw 100% affordable in the midst of the village and I’m fully in agreement on that,” he said.

The housing, which is expected to comprise 14 units, four of them affordable rentals, will be built at the North Road end of the property.

“Up along the road here, create some housing,” Marlowe said, pointing to a rendering of the site. “This is North Road right across here. So, the idea was, create sort of a four-way intersection, not that there’d be stop signs on all four, but access into the site would be right across from North Road. The beauty of that is, as you’re coming up that elevation grade change, you’re not putting headlights in somebody’s living room.”

Marlowe is also planning a commercial space for the old turbine building.

“I think that turbine building and the structure adjacent to it could really be a beautiful space, with decks open to the river,” he said.

With so much permitting and fundraising still ahead, Marlowe does not have a target completion date.

“We’re going to spend the remainder of this year, probably into early next year, doing the remediation with this latest round of grant funding,” he said. “We should get a long way and this should get us across the finish line, unless there’s some sort of pocket of additional contaminated soils that we haven’t discovered. … What I’m so grateful for, and I know I’m just sounding like a Pollyanna here, but I am, is that the state stuck with us on this project.”

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Richmond Model Walks at NY Fashion Week

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 17th 2024

Our Oct. 6 2023 story about Richmond resident Elly Nehnavaj and her modeling career generated a tremendous response. We thought our readers would be interested in learning about her latest adventure.

 

RICHMOND – After overcoming multiple physical challenges to model in Rhode Island Fashion Week last September, Elisabeth “Elly” Nehnevaj, recently returned from walking an even bigger runway, at New York Fashion Week.

Nehnevaj found out just before the Christmas holiday that she would be in one of the New York shows. She traveled from Richmond with her husband, Joe, to her parents’ home in New Jersey and from there, the family took a train to New York City for the show, which took place on Feb. 9.

 

Getting Ready

 

In the weeks leading up to the show, Nehnevaj said her preparation focused on the basics.

“Healthy diet, exercise - not too much. You don’t want to overdo it,” she said. “Just a healthy diet, and a lot of stretching. A lot of people think ‘oh, you’re just walking up and down the catwalk. That’s something anybody can do.’ But it’s actually pretty strenuous. … It’s a lot, and you’ve really got to make sure your body is stretched well enough and hydrated, so you don’t end up cramping up.”

Nahnevaj admitted to being nervous before she walked the runway.

“I was shaking like a leaf right before, but as soon as my heels hit the floor, all of my stresses and worries just completely melted away and I was so focused on not falling and making sure I was walking slowly, steadily,” she said.

 

At just 4 feet 9 inches, Nehnevaj does not fit the typical profile of runway models, who are usually very tall. But “typical” no longer dominates a fashion industry that is evolving to include models of diverse ages and sizes, and Nehnevaj is finding her niche as a petite model.

In New York, Nehnevaj modeled for the designer “On the Go with Princess O,” whose clothes she had also shown in Rhode Island.

“They were the same designer who I walked for, for Rhode Island Fashion Week, and they had asked me to come back and walk for this show,” she said. “For our little group, there was about five of us ranging in all ages from five to 30.”

 

Overcoming Health Challenges

 

Nehnevaj was born with a rare blood disease, Fanconi anemia, which can affect many parts of the body. She has undergone two kidney transplants and is currently on dialysis as she waits for a third donor.

“I had to juggle all of my treatments with New York Fashion Week and luckily, that was not a problem,” she said. “I was able to have one of my treatments done in New Jersey before my show. Having a dream job and trying to juggle healthcare and managing health, it is a lot to handle, but I’m doing my best and keeping myself busy and doing the things I love to do.”

As exciting as it was to be in a big fashion show, Nehnevaj said she had also really enjoyed meeting other petite models. 

“Obviously, walking down that runway was a huge dream, but actually, meeting all the people and making new friends throughout this whole experience was really rewarding for me, because it was so fun being in a room filled with like-minded people, especially petite people like me.”

 

Future Projects

 

Nehnevaj is now looking ahead to her next project. She will be speaking at “Celebrate Women’s History” at the Boston Public Library’s Roxbury branch on March 13.

“I will be sharing my story with Fanconi anemia and chronic kidney failure,” she said.

She is also working with Naima Mora, winner of the reality television show “America’s Top Model” in 2005.

“When I was practicing my walk, she told me to think of a word, think of a special word, or a word that really makes you feel good, and you just keep saying that to yourself over and over again as you walk,” she said. “You’re trying to get yourself ready and hype yourself up to start walking, and that was really helpful. She knows about my personal story and she thought it was really cool – and I have her personal phone number now!”

Council Passes Resolution Opposing Chariho Proposal

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 7th 2024

RICHMOND – With Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox dissenting, a majority of the Town Council voted at Tuesdays meeting to approve a resolution opposing the proposal by the Chariho Regional School District to build three new elementary schools. It was a symbolic gesture, since it is the voters in the three towns, not the Town Councils, who will decide which of three options they want the district to pursue, but it is a possible indication of the depth of voter opposition to the plan. The resolution was introduced by council President, Mark Trimmer.

Three options have been presented for Chariho schools. The first would require the town to pass a bond of up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools. The second option, would involve the approval of a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option, and the third option, costing approximately $7 million, would pay for improvements and repairs to the existing schools.

The text of the resolution had not been posted on the town’s website at the time of this writing, but Trimmer described its purpose at the meeting.

“We have a legacy to leave our children, and part of that legacy is to the public education that they receive,” he said. “But the other part of that legacy is not to get our society so deeply in debt that these children of ours are locked in. They’re yoked to work their entire lives paying taxes that grow and grow and grow.”

Trimmer cited several important facilities, including the police station and the public works building, that, in addition to the town’s roads, are in dire need of repair. He also warned that the town could find itself in a financial bind if it loses one or both current lawsuits, brought by The Preserve.

Trimmer advocated the two, safer, less costly options.

“I think there are other alternatives,” he said. “I do not support the building of a new school,” he said. “I support Option B or C, something in the middle, perhaps, where we pay as we go, and we address things and we renovate things.”

Wilcox said the final decision would be up to the voters.

“As councilors, or council President, we have no further or better or different say than any other registered voter,” she said. “So, I think that bringing a resolution like this to the table is unnecessary, unproductive. There’s no reason to lock your vote in right now.”

Councilor Michael Colasante, citing numerous conversations with officials in other towns (Cranston, Johnston, Newport) and construction companies (Gilbane), warned that with school districts throughout Rhode Island simultaneously undertaking large school construction projects in order to take advantage of state reimbursements, there would be shortages of labor and materials, which would in turn, lead to higher prices. 

“It’s my job, first and foremost, to protect the taxpayer, the ones that can least afford it,” he said.

Council member Helen Sheehan said she favored renovations and repairs over new construction. She also brought up the discrepancy in property taxes between Richmond and Hopkinton and Charlestown, where they are lower.

“The three new schools which have been proposed are almost identical,” she said. “… Charlestown taxpayers would only have to pay 25% of the cost while taxpayers in Richmond and Hopkinton pay 75% of the cost. This is not a fair distribution of expense. The tax burden should be equally shared.”

It should be noted that there is also a large discrepancy in the amount of state aid each town receives. The proposed Fiscal Year 2024-25 Chariho budget shows that Richmond and Hopkinton will receive considerably more than Charlestown in state aid to education. Richmond will receive $6.1 million, Hopkinton will get $6.6 million, and Charlestown will get $1.5 million.

 

The Public Weighs In

 

During the public comment period, School Committee member Jessica Purcell reminded the council that good schools were important drivers of the local economy.

“Our successful and well-managed school system brings new people to this area, brings back Chariho alumni to raise their families,” she said. “This opportunity to receive one of the highest reimbursement rates in the state is a once in a lifetime chance to thoughtfully plan for the short and long - term future of Chariho.”

Purcell then turned her attention to Trimmer.

“You are welcome to your own personal opinion, even if that means we disagree, but making a resolution like this, you are overstepping your purview,” she said.

But other residents applauded Trimmer for standing up for taxpayers.

“These people will be building an empire on the backs of the taxpayers,” one resident said. “…I want to thank you for your stance on this whole thing.”

Another resident raised the Charlestown tax issue.

“…We want [an] equalizing taxing district,” he said. “Before we go any further, get the tax situation straightened out. We can’t keep living the way it is now, with two towns hurting and the other one’s floating pretty.”

Jeff Noble, who supports the bond, attempted to explain why three new schools would make more financial sense than four old schools, because of the lower operating costs for new buildings.

“Yes, it’s going to take a lot to get there, but if we’re looking at our tax picture five or ten years out, it looks a lot better with these kinds of savings, and the only way we’re going to get it is by investing in our school system and not just doing ‘warm safe and dry.’”

Louise Dinsmore, founder of the “Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee, thanked Trimmer for putting the resolution on the agenda.

“It takes a lot of political courage to put that on the agenda and I appreciate your considering this proposal,” she said.

Trimmer said Wednesday,

”The resolution will be that we reject Option A to build three new schools for $150 million as presented, period.”

Asked if he was leaving the door open to a possible compromise, he said,

“Yes, because I’m not a closed-minded person, if somebody can, at the 11th hour at the 11th day, show me something different.”

Trimmer also clarified a statement he made at the meeting about the project’s potential to financially “paralyze the town.”

“What I mean by that is, when a school budget and a school approach 90% of the portion of the property taxes that we pay, it leaves only 10% to run a municipal budget for a town, and that really severely limits what the Town Administrator can do and what the Town Council can do within the town,” he said.

The resolution passed. While a similar resolution has not been proposed in Hopkinton, several members of that Town Council have stated that they oppose the proposed bond for new school construction.

The bond referendum does not take place until May 7, so there is still plenty of time for voters in the three towns to consider the options.

 

The Canvassing Authority

 

At the request of the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, the council reconsidered the Jan. 16 appointment of Raymond Pouliot to the Canvassing Authority and ended up appointing him anyway. Pouliot replaces departing member, Tim Michaud, who is also a Republican.

Colasante made the original motion appointing Pouliot, later found to be a deviation from procedure, which requires the appointment to be made by the council President.

Two candidates, Pouliot, and Pamela Rohland, a Democrat who currently serves on the Authority as an alternate, were given a chance to tell the council why they wanted Michaud’s position.

As long as both Republicans and Democrats are represented on the committee, it is not necessary to replace a departing member with someone of the same party affiliation, but Trimmer said Wednesday that he had felt more comfortable nominating Pouliot, a Republican. Pouliot won the council vote, with Nassaney and Wilcox opposed.

 

Other Business

 

Town Solicitor Christopher Zangari was sworn in before the council meeting. The council also approved the hiring of Gary Robar to replace Scott Barber as Public Works Director and Electrical Inspector Michael Rosso, who replaces Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was dismissed on Jan. 30 at a special Town Council meeting.

 

Town Planner Talia Jalette presented an update on the “Wood Pawcatuck Rivers Watershed Flood Protection Project” which the town co-sponsors with the National Resources Conservation Service. Jalette also discussed another NRCS initiative, the Emergency Watershed protection Program, which involves the purchases, by the NRCS, of permanent easements to help restore floodplains. Those purchases would include buying private homes at “fair market” prices, and demolishing them. Participation in the program is voluntary, but there are several additional issues that need further investigation.

 

The council approved the replacement of a culvert on Hillsdale Road to mitigate flooding from the Beaver River. Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association Executive Director Christopher Fox told the council that if approved, the town-owned culvert would be replaced by a structure with an open bottom that will allow aquatic organisms to pass through and will also have the capacity handle more water. The project will be completed in a single phase of construction, at no cost to the town.

The council voted to approve the project.

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Chariho, Canvasing Authority on Council Agenda

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

February 5th 2024

RICHMOND – At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, members will discuss a proposal by council President Mark Trimmer to draft a resolution opposing the Chariho Regional School District’s new schools initiative.

Councilors will also be asked to reconsider the appointment of Raymond Pouliot to the Richmond Canvassing Authority.

 

The Chariho Resolution

 

Mark Trimmer will introduce a resolution opposing the proposal to go out to bond for up to $150 million to build three new elementary schools. The state would reimburse the district a base rate of 61%, which, with the addition of several “bonuses,” would increase to reimburse up to 81% of the cost. The second option, which would entail renovations to existing schools, would receive the base reimbursement of 61%. If the bond fails, the final option is to do emergency repairs only, which, for elementary schools, which were built more than 75 years ago, are expected to be increasingly costly.

Reached Monday, Trimmer said he could not support the new schools construction bond.

“Do we need new schools? That’s debatable,” he said. “Do we need $150 million worth of new debt that will paralyze the town and stop us from doing anything else? I’m not sure we do need that, and so, that’s why I feel it should be put on the agenda for discussion and the town should have its say as to whether or not this is a good idea.”

School Committee member Jessica Purcell, who also serves as the Vice Chair of the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, pointed out that the decision on the bond would be made by the School Committee, not the Town Council. In an email Monday, Purcell also expressed her disappointment with Trimmer’s opposition to the proposal.

“I am disappointed that Mr. Trimmer is taking an oppositional stance on these complex but necessary plans,” she wrote. “Learning is a process that requires patience. Voters in our three towns will make the ultimate decision on May 7th about how we move forward to address the challenge of maintaining aging school buildings, including Richmond Elementary as it approaches its 90th year.”

The Richmond Community Alliance political action committee posted an open letter by RCA President Mark Reynolds in its Feb. 4 newsletter, asking Trimmer to thoroughly research the issue before asking the council to consider a resolution opposing the plan.

“There is plenty of time between now and May to gather information and arrive at a solution that will best support students from Richmond in a way that is fiscally responsible,” the letter reads. “The Town Council should be spending its time providing information to residents, rather than telling them how to vote. Remember that you represent the town as a whole, and your personal opinion and self-interest does not outweigh the residents you serve.”

Reached Monday, Reynolds repeated a statement that he made at the Jan. 16 council meeting.

“These buildings are going to need to be replaced at some point,” he said. “You’re just kicking the can down the road, and say you get five to ten more years out of them before they really are in bad shape, it’s going to cost you more.”

 

The Canvassing Authority

 

The Richmond Democratic Town Committee has asked the council to reconsider the appointment, at the Jan. 16 council meeting, of Raymond Pouliot to the Canvassing Authority. The motion to appoint Pouliot was made by councilor Michael Colasante and approved by four council members with Samantha Wilcox casting the only opposing vote.

Committee Chair Chris Kona said Monday that he was encouraged that the council was willing to reconsider the appointment.

Kona explained that state law requires that the council President nominate members to the three-member Canvassing Authority.

“The President is supposed to nominate someone from the [voters] list and so, the fact that Councilor Colasante was the one who made the motion means that according to the law, it’s coming from the wrong direction and it reads as a way for Councilor Colasante to try to bully the council into picking a particular person,” he said.

The Committee is also asking why the council did not interview both candidates. The council briefly interviewed Pouliot, but Pamela Rohland, a Democrat, was not acknowledged.

“When other boards try to appoint someone, they interview all of the different candidates and in this case, we didn’t see all of the candidates interviewed,” Kona said. “Pamela Rohland was another candidate who was eligible for the position, but the council never considered her. They certainly had the opportunity to ask her to come and make a statement, as well as Mr. Pouliot, but they did not.”

Kona also challenged the assumption that the person filling a vacancy, in this case created by the resignation of Republican Tim Michaud, must be of the same political affiliation.

“There’s this myth that the person who fills that position needs to be of the same party as the one who was in it before, and, as long as the Canvassing Board has at least one Democrat, one Republican, then the third one can belong to either party,” he said. “In the case that we’re in, there is already one Democrat on the Canvassing Authority, there’s one Republican on the canvassing authority, so this position could be either one. … The council could have picked either candidate.”

 

Other Agenda Items

 

In other business, Town Administrator Karen Pinch will ask the council to approve the hiring of Gary Robar as the new Director of the Department of Public Works. If approved, Robar will replace Scott Barber, who has retired.

Pinch will also ask the council to approve Michael Rosso as the town’s new Electrical Inspector, replacing Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was dismissed at a special Town Council meeting on Jan. 30.

The Vaillancourt Saga Ends With Dismissal

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 31st 2024

RICHMOND – At a special meeting Tuesday, members of the Town Council voted to terminate Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt. The council also voted to hire Christopher Zangary as the new Town Solicitor, replacing longtime solicitor Karen Ellsworth. Allan Fung was the only other applicant for the solicitor position.

 

Vaillancourt Fired

 

This was the third special meeting the council had held to discuss complaints about Jeffrey Vaillancourt, but this time it was the last, concluding with Vaillancourt’s dismissal, which took effect immediately.

Councilor Michael Colasante, who prompted a complaint to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission when he declined to recuse himself from previous discussions of Vaillancourt’s performance even though Vaillancourt was doing electrical work for him at the time, recused himself from Tuesday’s vote. Council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox voted in favor of Vaillancourt’s termination, and councilor Helen Sheehan abstained.

 

The Complaints

 

The town has received numerous complaints about Vaillancourt’s conduct, which has been variously described as aggressive, rude, unethical and unprofessional. In addition, and of great concern to the council, was a growing perception that he might deter businesses from opening in Richmond.

The saga began last March when council member Michael Colasante, with support from council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan, rejected the recommendation of then Town Planner Shaun Lacey to hire Michael Rosso and instead, at the next council meeting, voted to hire Jeffrey Vaillancourt, the owner of Amity Electric and a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2022.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch has received complaints about Vaillancourt from the Washington County Fair and Pasquale Farms, as well as Twisted Pizza and other businesses. Administrators for the fair have banned Vaillancourt from the fairgrounds. The two most recent written complaints, one sent to Pinch in December and the second sent in January, echo previous complaints. The second complaint, which was confidential until it was revealed during the council meeting to have come from a representative of The Preserve, asked that Vaillancourt not go to that property. Several of the complaints also describe Vaillancourt as attempting to get additional work for his own company from the businesses he was inspecting, which would constitute an ethics violation.

Vaillancourt supporters, including Colasante, accused Pinch, Lacey and other town officials of being unfair to Vaillancourt. At the August 29 special council meeting, Colasante stated,

“Right off the bat, he didn’t like Mr. Vaillancourt, because it wasn’t his pick,” he said referring to Lacey. “It wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t who he wanted in that office. It’s not up to Mr. Lacey or any department head to say ‘this is my pick’. Again, the Town Council, all right? the town charter, hires and fires.”

Colasante has continued to push to remove hiring and firing authority from Pinch and transfer it to the council, but the Vaillancourt debacle, which lasted nearly a year, is not expected to bolster his case.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Vaillancourt repeated the accusation that he had not had the support from the Town Administrator.

“I feel that although I was hired by the Town Council to do this job, it was under protest by others,” he said. “It’s a fact.”

Pinch responded,

“Can I just make a statement for the record?” she asked Trimmer. “When that position came open, I encouraged Jeff to apply. I was not in the interviews, I was not the one that made the recommendation for another electrical inspector, so it’s not a personal thing for me. … I didn’t solicit any of these complaints. They all came to me. They all had a pattern, most importantly, that Jeff was trying to solicit business for himself. I feel like, every other time we’ve talked about it, I’m the bad guy. It’s not Jeff taking responsibility but the complainant’s the bad guy, I’m the bad guy, everyone’s the bad guy but the person who’s taking responsibility for his actions.”

The temperature in the council chamber rose again by several degrees, when Vaillancourt stated that he had recorded his supervisor, the town’s Building Official, Anthony Santilli, without Santilli’s knowledge.

“I don’t like people taping me,” an angry Santilli said from the audience.

“I wasn’t taping you,” Vaillancourt replied. “I was covering myself.”

Vaillancourt apologized, but he continued to defend his actions, saying he had felt “attacked.”

Some council members, including Nassaney, said that with Vaillancourt banned from several establishments, the town would need a second electrical inspector.

“We have to go out and hire another inspector… because a lot of business owners don’t feel comfortable with you being there,” he told Vaillancourt.

Trimmer said the bottom line, for the town, was that Vaillancourt’s reputation would not attract new businesses.

“We cannot use you at the largest event in town, we cannot use you at the two largest taxpayers in town, and new businesses – we’re desperate,” he said. “On the one hand, we’re saying we want economic development in this town, we want businesses to come in and help us defray the cost of schools and roads, and on the other hand, we’re driving them away with an inspector who they have asked not to come. We’ve reached a crossroads that I don’t think we can recover from.”

Reached Wednesday, Wilcox agreed that Vaillancourt had had to go.

“I’m sure that Mr. Vaillancourt is a great electrician, but the repeated complaints, consistent issues, really couldn’t be ignored anymore,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the people who were brave enough to come forward and I’m glad the council majority has proven to the residents, investors and business owners in Richmond that behavior like that is not acceptable.”

Trimmer, in an interview Wednesday, said,

“It was time. We tried to work with him. We have him many opportunities, and it just got to the point where the cost was too high. We would have had to hire another electrical inspector, and pay two.”

Michael Rosso, who has previously done electrical inspections for the town, will step in on a temporary basis as the town begins the process of hiring Vaillancourt’s replacement.

 

Council Chooses Zangary

 

The council discussed the two applicants for Town Solicitor, Allan Fung and Christopher Zangary, during an executive session before the council meeting.

It is not clear whether the discussion in executive session was contentious, but by the time the council members returned to open session, their vote to hire Zangary was unanimous.

Trimmer said Wednesday that he had invited Fung to apply for the position, but had changed his mind.

“I invited former Mayor Fung to apply for the job, but the more I evaluated it, the more I thought about it just realized that Zangary’s experience and the fact that attorney Cozzolino [the other Town Solicitor] felt comfortable with him and Karen [Pinch] felt comfortable with him – that’s what we want, we want a team that works together.”

A resident of North Kingstown, Zangary, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2022.  His law firm, which specializes in real estate and land use issues, is located in Warwick. Zangary will attend the next Town Council meeting, on Feb. 6.

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Richmond in the News

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Iva Lipton, “In the Easy Chair”

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 27th 2024

Just about everyone in Richmond knows Iva Lipton, and recently, she was featured in the Jan. 20 edition of “In the Easy Chair” in The Westerly Sun. The interview was conducted by Nancy Burns-Fusaro and is re-printed here with permission.

A retired registered nurse, Lipton is the former Director of the Richmond Elder Affairs Commission. She remains engaged in community events and attends every Town Council meeting, unless she is on one of her trips to an exotic foreign country.

Lipton is also the former Director of the Richmond Elder Affairs Commission, and an artist, who was photographed for the article sitting next to an array of Christmas ornaments she made.

The story and photo can be found here:

https://www.thewesterlysun.com/lifestyle/in-the-easy-chair/in-the-easy-chair-with-iva-j-lipton/article_311e9610-b3ed-11ee-bbf5-a3fbfd48b3fb.html

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New Leadership for Richmond Democratic Town Committee

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 26th 2024

RICHMOND – The Richmond Democratic Town Committee has a new leader. Chris Kona took over as Chair this week, replacing Joseph Reddish.

A frequent speaker during the public forum segments of recent Town Council meetings, Kona served in the United States Navy and, after his discharge, began a civilian career as a warfare analyst at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Middletown.

Kona said the change in leadership was an orderly one.

 “We discussed it among the committee and sort of as a whole, the committee decided that this is a good shift and it’s not something, I think, that we went through a lot of motions for other than planning, to have the discussion about that in the first place,” he said.

Reddish, who said he had chaired the committee for “four or five years,” said he would remain involved with the committee and added that the change in leadership had been an amicable one.

“We transitioned, which is good,” he said. “I’m still part of the committee and so I’ll still be their conduit to the state capital and so on. The committee will do very well with Chris Kona.”

Reddish said he serves on the boards of several non - profit organizations, leaving him with little free time.

“I sit on five different non-profits and boards,” he said. “… so, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I just don’t have the bandwidth I used to have to be able to do everything I would like to do, perfectly.”

As for his political affiliation, Reddish said he would continue to support the Democrats.

“I’m still engaged fully, but I don’t have the bandwidth to do all the events and all that stuff that I used to be able to do, but I’ll still be a strong voice in the community as far as making sure we do everything the right way and have the right visibility, etcetera,” he said.

Kona and his family have lived in Richmond for ten years, and his two children attend school in the Chariho district.

Kona said he became more involved in town politics in 2022, when Jessica Purcell ran for a seat on the School Committee.

“I became engaged, initially, though some of the discussions a year ago,” he said. “It was really Jess Purcell’s campaign, her campaign to run for School Committee,  and then, about a year ago, when the Town Council had voted against following the procedure of the Chariho Act and to appoint someone else to the School Committee. At that point, I began to track town politics more closely and to look for opportunities where I might be able to help offer my services and be a volunteer to support the town.”

Chairing the committee, Kona, noted, would be a way for him to give more to his town.

“I think this is a good opportunity,” he said. “It presented itself very recently and I’m grateful. I think it makes for a good chance for me to help contribute to making Richmond a better town and making sure that the folks of Richmond are supported in a way that, I think, works with the kind of strengths I can offer.”

Committee Vice Chair Jessica Purcell thanked Reddish for his years of chairing the committee and welcomed Kona to his leadership role.

“The RDTC has voted unanimously for a new Chairperson,” she said in an emailed statement that was also posted on the committee’s Facebook page. “We thank Joe Reddish for his years of leadership and welcome Christopher Kona as our new Chair. Joe Reddish is a collaborative and inclusive leader who understands the need to ‘build a bigger table’ so all voices can be heard. Over the last couple of years, the RDTC has grown its membership as an active group of residents engaged in positive advocacy through volunteer service, town/school meetings, and community events. We support local government that is responsive to the needs of residents and not to ideological agendas or special interests. Joe has shown that a true leader must be a representative first and foremost, and the RDTC is grateful for his continued years of service on the committee and in our town. Joe will continue to be an active member with the RDTC and with many local nonprofits and state organizations. We welcome Chris Kona as our new chair, as he has proven to be an active and vocal leader regarding town and school matters of importance.”

 

So, What Now?

 

It is safe to say that Richmond is the most politically divided in recent memory.

“There’s certainly a lot of tension in the town,” Kona said. “I think it remains important that we find ways to make sure the folks in the town are taken care of and that we have government that’s supportive of the residents of Richmond, and so, I’m eager to see what the committee might be able to do to support that.”

 

With the election looming in November, Kona said the committee was mapping out the party’s local strategy.

“We’re still working through what we’ll do. I’m. not going to talk in depth about all our discussion points,” he said.  “We have upcoming events. I would urge folks to track our activities on the Richmond DTC website, where we post our upcoming fundraisers and community outreach events.”

Kona said he was expecting the upcoming election campaign to be a tough one, but he also noted that more residents were getting involved.

“I think the next year will certainly bring us a lot in terms of challenges,” he said. “I’ve been very excited to see how Richmond has been coalescing and I think that we’re starting to see a lot of commonality among the folks of Richmond, so I’m excited to see the next year starts to evolve as we begin to understand what the folks of Richmond are looking for and what they need and how we can make sure the government’s going to be able to support them for that.”

Johnson Honored by RI Attorney General

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 24th 2024

PROVIDENCE – Richmond Police Chief Elwood Johnson was recently inducted into the 2023 Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place on Jan. 18 at the office of Attorney General, Peter F. Neronha.

“Chief Johnson is a shining example of what it means to put others first,” Neronha said Wednesday. “Chief Johnson honorably served the Rhode Island State Police, the Richmond Police Department, and led the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association as a well-respected leader with a deep and unwavering commitment to the criminal justice community. Moreover, through his work with Special Olympics Rhode Island, Chief Johnson has fiercely advocated for tolerance and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. We should all aspire to be more like Chief Johnson.”

 

Johnson, in his usual self-effacing way, recalled how he had learned of his induction from the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.

“I was very surprised and humbled,” he said. “I got a call a week before Christmas from [Colonel] Darnell Weaver. I asked him ‘are you sure you’ve got the right guy?’”

 

The inductees were invited to bring up to 10 guests to the ceremony. Johnson invited his parents.

“It was a nice opportunity for my family, particularly my parents,” he said. “It wasn’t so much what they said. It was having other people remark on their son. That they were witness to it was really nice.”

 

Johnson credited the people he works with and also, the entire Richmond community, for his award.

Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the community loves him right back.

“Chief Johnson is truly a one of a kind, and I mean that in a positive way,” he said. “His professionalism and his desire to portray the town’s police department in the best light is commendable. He does an amazing job. This has been a long time coming, and I congratulate him for a well-deserved honor.”

 

Johnson credits his sister, Jenny, who passed away in 1995, with inspiring his continued involvement in the Rhode Island Special Olympics. Johnson serves on the organization’s Executive Board and started the annual “Super Plunge” more than 10 years ago to raise money to help athletes participate in events hosted by Special Olympics Rhode Island.

Jenny was born with developmental disabilities, and lived to be 25.

“For 25 years, this person, who couldn’t speak, used sign language, was the best teacher I ever had,” he said. “She’s why I am involved with Special Olympics.”

He then added,

“It’s difficult to talk about my sister. I think about her every day.”

 

In addition to Johnson, six Rhode Islanders were inducted:

Roosevelt Benton

William J. Ferland

Robert Lauro

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch

Federal District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy

Colonel Russel S. Serpa

Divisions Apparent at Omnibus Meeting

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 20th 2024

RICHMOND – Members of the Chariho School Committee and Chariho administrators hosted the annual Omnibus Meeting Wednesday, and it was the longest in recent memory, lasting nearly three hours.

Attending were Town Council members from Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton Town Councils, as well as representatives of other committees. The purpose of the Omnibus Meeting is to present the school district’s new proposed budget, in this case, for Fiscal Year 2025. The meeting is a requirement of the Chariho Act, the state legislation that created the regional school district.

As a small group of residents looked on, town representatives asked questions about the budget, but they also had questions about a proposal for Chariho to participate in a state program that would replace the district’s aging elementary schools with new buildings. Some town officials have balked at the first of three school buildings options, involving a $150 million bond for the new schools, because they worry that residents, already in a surly mood over their property taxes, will see their taxes go even higher. The other options are to go out for a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option, and finally, a capital “pay as you go” improvement and repair option, which would cost approximately $7 million. The state will reimburse 76% to 81% of the cost of building new schools. Districts that choose the “warm, safe and dry” or “pay as you go” options will receive 61% reimbursements.

 

The Pitch

 

Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard, who presented the school buildings proposal to the Richmond Town Council on Tuesday, presented it once again at Wednesday’s Omnibus meeting. Reached Thursday, she said the important thing for residents to understand is that regardless of the option they choose, the costs to the taxpayers will be the same.

“It’s going to cost the taxpayers the exact same amount of money, whether we just do basic, whether we just do new schools,” she said. “It’s going to be, annually, about $2.3 million … you’re going to look at a $2.3 million increase, regardless of the pass forward,” she said. “What people have to understand is, for $2 million, the outcomes that you could get are new schools, prioritize projects like the Richmond [school]bathroom project, the Charlestown [school] paving project, the Ashaway playground and paving project, the main campus, the plumbing in the elementary schools, or, the third option, if both of those bonds don’t pass, it would be like putting our facilities at risk and trying to do our best for emergencies only.”

 

School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said Thursday that the discussion of school building options had been marred by misinformation.

“I think there are a lot of questions, and hopefully councilors, who wanted accurate information,” she said. “I think something that plays this entire process is fear mongering and inaccurate information and hopefully, some of that was dispelled last night.”

 

Richmond School Committee member Jessica Purcell said she believed the annual event was worthwhile, despite the political posturing.

“I think that it serves an important purpose of reminding all of us in positions of representation that we’re better when we work together,” she said. “Sometimes, the discussion may not have immediate consequences, but it puts ideas in people’s minds, it puts questions and concerns in people’s minds, and hopefully in the future, they can take those concerns and work together to improve them for all their constituents.”

 

The Proposed Budget

 

The proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Chariho budget, including debt service, is $58.4 million, an increase of 2.2%. The three towns’ contributions, after state aid, would be: Charlestown $12.7 million, a 1.5% increase, Richmond, $16.2 million, a 3.1% increase, and Hopkinton, $15.9 million, a 5.6% increase. As has often been stated, each town’s contribution to the school district is based on its student enrollment, with Charlestown having the fewest students in recent years.

 

Hopkinton Town Council President Michael Geary said he believed that the Chariho contributions should be equal for each of the towns.

“I think a third, a third and a third would be good for us,” he said.

Charlestown council Vice President Stephen Stokes appeared to agree.

“If we’re going to do it as a district, we’re getting three equal buildings of equal cost, … then it should be voted upon as a district and the chips will fall where they may,” he said. “And I personally do not disagree in the building, considering the cost, we’re getting equal buildings, I don’t particularly have a problem with the discussion of a third, a third, a third.  I don’t see a problem with us paying a fair share in certain aspects when we talk about things that are equally done, so I think there’s a conversation that we certainly can have there.”

Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney disagreed, and presented a list of her town’s payments for additional services, beyond what was required by the Chariho Act.

“Right now, we have approximately 24% of the students at Chariho,” she said. “We’re paying 9% more every year than we’re required to pay by the Act, but it was a concession made by Charlestown.”

 

The public hearing on the budget is on March 5 and the budget referendum will take place on April 9. Budget details, and the timeline, can be found on the Chariho website.

Council Hears Schools Proposal

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Council Hears Schools Proposal

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 17th 2024

RICHMOND – Town Council members heard a presentation on options for Chariho schools at the Tuesday meeting. At an executive session that took place earlier, councilors considered the applicants for the Town Solicitor position.

 

Chariho

 

Several council members were skeptical of, and at times, hostile to a proposed plan presented by Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard and Mario Carreno, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Education’s School Building Authority, involving the construction of three new elementary schools to replace the district’s four elementary schools.

The issue is whether the town should go out to bond for up to $150 million for new schools and improvements to the main Chariho campus, or go out for a $30 million bond to repair and renovate the existing schools in what has been called the “warm, dry, safe” option. The third option is for capital “pay as you go” improvements and repairs, which would cost approximately $7 million.

Picard explained that RIDE requires all school districts to draft five-year capital improvement plans and as part of that process, consider the new construction option. The state, which must approve the capital improvement plans, favors “newer and fewer” schools, and will reimburse 76% to 81% of the cost. Districts that choose the warm, safe and dry or pay as you go options will receive 61% reimbursements.

“All districts must review the option of new construction when they draft their capital improvement plan,” Picard told the council. “During that review, we determined that maintaining our facilities would cost approximately $30 million over the next five years for our four elementary schools and the main campus, with the focus on ensuring our schools remain warm, safe and dry.”

Chariho administrators have been mulling capital improvement plans for decades.

“The district has been developing plans based on the needs of our aging elementary facilities [since] back in the ‘90s,” Picard said.

The question Richmond, Charlestown and Hopkinton residents must decide is whether to approve the bond for new schools, approve a smaller bond for improvements to existing schools, so simply continue to repair the existing buildings as necessary, two of which are nearly 90 years old.

“What I’m sharing with you,” Picard said, “is an opportunity for the three towns, and if that’s not what the voters want, that’s not what we’ll do. Often, we are asked, especially during budget season, to ensure that we provide cost effective approaches. I cannot, in good conscience, sit here and tell you that the best approach is to continue to maintain aging facilities when I know that we’ll be able to get a 76% reimbursement, minimum, up to 81 cents on the dollar, for just about the same, if less money to get three brand new schools out of that.”

There are other issues muddying the waters of the schools proposals. Hopkinton, which has two of the elementary schools, Hope Valley and Ashaway, has resisted giving up its second elementary school. In addition, Richmond residents, who have complained incessantly about the town’s tax rate, would likely balk at even a modest tax increase.

Councilor Helen Sheehan said,

“When I did the math, it looks as if we are 2,900 families in Richmond, and Richmond pays 37.5% of the [Chariho] bill. So that means the taxes per house will go up $297 per year for the next 20 years.”

Picard replied,

“Based on the taxes, you also have to take into account what the towns are going to do, so while I can’t predict the taxes, what I can tell you is, the dollars that you spend on each school is based on the residencies of where your students live, no different than when we get a CTC {career and technical] student from Westerly. They pay tuition coming into the high school. That’s how that works.”

Sheehan stated that if Chariho were a “truly regional” district, taxpayers in all three Chariho towns would pay the same.

“You are regional,” Picard said. “And when you think about it, you would also not just have to look at your local taxpayer dollars but you’d have to look at your state aid. Richmond gets more state aid than Charlestown, and Hopkinton, sometimes, gets more state aid than Richmond.”

Councilor Michael Colasante said he had met with North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, who had confronted rising costs with school bonds there.

“I had a sit-down with Charles Lombardi, the North Providence Mayor,” Colasante said. “He’s a great businessman, I’m telling you. $75 million, then it went to $100 million, and then it went to $125 million, and that’s when Charlie, the Mayor, said ‘no, that’s it.’ Because the $125 million, these are his words, not mine, would have ballooned to a loan of $150 million, so what they ended up doing is paring it down to three schools, like what we’re trying to sell the district, he went and he pared it down to two schools and he went up to a second story, which is cheaper than going out.”

Picard, who is also a member of the North Providence School Committee, said Colasante was making incorrect statements about what had occurred there.

“Miss Picard, even in North Providence, they had to scale back,” he said. “Their tax base is much greater.”

Picard interjected,

“You’re saying it because of the elementary schools, which is not accurate,” she said. “To be clear, they added projects – the administration building. So, I can have this conversation, I’m going to say to you I know what’s happening in North Providence, and you’re twisting information, which is unfair.”

Council President Mark Trimmer listed some of the town’s pressing needs, which, he suggested, should be addressed before the town borrowed money for schools.

“We have a police department that is in an old credit union,” he said. “We have a volunteer fire department. And yet, we’re going to platinum - plate our school system. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Several people spoke during the public forum, including some who said the schools were a critical investment, especially for a community where people chose to buy homes specifically because of the quality of the public schools.

“It’s an opportunity that we need to take advantage of, and to not take advantage of it would be fiscally irresponsible,” Mark Reynolds said.

School Committee member Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond, said she was disappointed that there had been so much rhetoric and so few questions.

“Instead of questions, what I heard was a lot of commentary by two very talkative town councilors sharing their own experiences,” she said. “I’m a little bit disappointed in that sort of behavior. Too many of these meetings have just run off the rails because of stuff like that and it bothers me.”

Purcell said being part of a regional school district made it possible for the three small towns to offer more than one town could on its own.

“But, we’re not as regional as we should be, right?” she said. “Hopkinton has two elementary schools. That is an issue that comes up year after year and that is part of why we are having a discussion about how to move forward.”

Stephen Moffitt, a member of the Hopkinton Town Council, said he was also disappointed by the tone of the meeting.

“We get a say by electing School Committee members, who hire our superintendent to do her job,” he said. “So, I would think it would be best practice to allow her to communicate her job. Do I think due diligence needs to be done? We need to know what it costs? Absolutely. We’d be stupid not to. …I applaud Gina for doing her job, coming up here. It’s part of the process. She has to present it.”

Trimmer asked Moffitt if he had a family member who works for the Chariho School District, and Moffitt replied,

“I do, but I also have five children in the school district, and I’ve lived here almost all my life. I’ve been here since – I heard Mr. Colasante say 36 years, or 1992 - I  remember when Mr. Colasante was on the Town Council then. You were a Democrat, then, right?” he said to Colasante, who confirmed that he had been.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox asked Picard about the timeline for the process.

“At the February meeting, I think it’s the 14th, we have the final application for Stage II and again, State I is a facilities review, Stage II is based on the opportunity of what we would qualify for and the right funding formula,” Picard said. “The architect presents what we can do to maximize the funding available.”

Details of the plan and the application process can be found here.

 

In other business, the council approved the appointment of retiring Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber to the Economic Development Commission.

 

Town Solicitor

 

At the executive session before the regular council meeting, council members discussed the applicants for Town Solicitor.

Karen Ellsworth, who was not reappointed to the solicitor position, departs at the end of January. The town has received only two responses to a request for proposals to fill the position and the RFP closes on Friday.  The names of the applicants and the discussions themselves are not public information.

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Officials Monitoring Impacts of Beaver River Dam Breach

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 13th 2024

RICHMOND – The storms that brought torrential rain to Rhode Island have taken a toll, not only on roads and bridges, but also, on at least one dam. During a rainstorm before Christmas, strong water flow on the upper Beaver River broke through the 19th Century earthen dam on the Beaver River Preserve.

The Beaver River is a tributary of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed, which, in 2019, received the federal “Wild and Scenic River” designation from the National Park Service. The Preserve and the dam are owned by The Nature Conservancy.

TNC spokesman Tim Mooney said it was not clear when the dam had failed.

“We don’t know exactly,” he said. “The rainstorm was on the 19th and the Preserve staff went down there on a routine visit. … We discovered it on the 21st.”

Mooney said TNC had been monitoring the dam.

“We’ve had our eye on this dam and what would be the pros and cons of removing it, ecologically,” he said. “It didn’t seem to be at imminent risk of failure, so to be honest, we were surprised to find that it had breached.”

Jim Turek, a restoration ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also serves as Chair of the Richmond Conservation Commission.

Turek said he had tried to learn more about the history of the dam before it failed, but he had not been able to find much information.

“I thought the dam was from the 1880s or so,” he said. “I’m going to try a little bit more research. It was a very old dam associated with a very old mill.

It was an earthen dam and it had a stone spillway which I would best describe as glacial boulders that were used to construct the spillway. That’s like stacking bowling balls, and it looked so funky, I always thought it was going to fall apart, to the point where you get on top there and move stuff around you could knock the thing over.”

 

Beaver Dams

 

Mooney said beavers have been active at the dam, adding material to the top of the dam itself and building additional dams downstream.

“Beavers had built on top of it and had also built a complex of dams, maybe 200 feet downstream,” he said. “That beaver dam was at least three feet tall. It was considerable, and some of that is still there. So, where the earthen dam breached cleanly through, the beaver material, the stone, the dirt, whatever, is washed downstream and the Beaver River now flows smoothly through it, and then a couple hundred feet downstream, it encounters this related complex of smaller, beaver-made dams which are intact, but not as tall as they used to be.”

 

No Rebuilding

 

“No one is going to come along and say ‘we’ve got a bunch of money for you to fix it,’” Turek said. “It would be foolish.”

Mooney added,

“That dam has been on the radar of conservationists. We have been asked from time to time would we consider removing it. There are benefits to open wetland habitats and there are benefits to free-flowing rivers as well. We had looked into it, but it was just too difficult and too expensive to bring machinery in there to remove it manually, so now, nature has taken care of it for us.”

 

Turek explained the steps that would be necessary to restore the flow of the river.

“We need to make sure that we clean up that outlet, because right now, that pile of boulders…a lot of it sits in the channel immediately downstream. I want to make sure that during lower flows, that channel reach is going to be passable, especially by brook trout,” he said. “We also want to make sure that the outlet to the pond is dynamically stable. I wouldn’t want to have a slough of material continue to go downstream. The best thing to do is just take some of those boulders and create a manmade riffle to support that being stabilized in a way.  The last thing we ought to do, someone should be monitoring, at least at a minimum, the changes that are going to occur in the plant community, because we know for a fact from many other dam removals, planned dam removals in particular, we always get a native plant community to come back quite rapidly, because there’s a seed bank in these sediments, and they sit there, and we know for a fact, from other dam removals that we have planned and implemented, that some of these seed banks are good and viable for over a century of being submerged.”

 

More Restoration Work to Come

 

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association has also been monitoring the dam. Executive Director Chris Fox, who supports a free-flowing upper Beaver River, described a broader, cold water stream restoration initiative that is currently underway. Participating organizations, in addition to the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, are The Nature Conservancy and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which have partnered with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. The program administers funding, in this case a $140,000 grant, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed by the United States Congress in 2021.

The funds will be used to improve habitats for native fish species such as trout.

“What old, remnant dams, like the one that failed on Nature Conservancy’s property exist, that hold back water and have a negative impact on freshwater fishes’ habitat, creating a pond that gets really hot in the summertime that exceeds the temperature thresholds that species like brook trout can’t tolerate and cause them to have to leave that area of the river because of the water temperature,” Fox said.

And old dams aren’t the only structures impeding water flow and fish passage.

“There is a culvert on Hillsdale Road that is what’s called a perched culvert, which means the exit of the culvert is like a waterfall, so essentially, it blocks aquatic organisms’ passage through the culvert,” Fox said. “So, it’s not just looking at improving habitat for resident wildlife, it also looks at flood resiliency. Using that same culvert as an example, it’s grossly undersized. … That culvert was destroyed in the 2010 flood [and] was immediately rebuilt by the town exactly as it was designed so that they could get the road re-opened (Town officials have indicated that the culvert was replaced in 1999, not in 2010), however, as we’ve seen in these recent storm events in the last few weeks, the road on Hillsdale Road is overtopped several times and not simply because of the dam failure upstream, more because of the volume of water being conveyed in the Beaver River.”

Turek said his mission was to restore the river’s natural habitat.

“My goal in my life is to try to put streams and rivers back into free-flowing natural state to the best as possible and that’s a classic example, trying to restore that stream for native fishes like brook trout,” Turek said. “Because it is a cold water system, the Beaver River, it’s an important system and to try to put an impoundment with a dark bottom that warms up substantially in the warmer season just doesn’t make any sense for supporting cold water fish habitat in the location, or downstream of it. That’s the whole point of it, is trying to bring back an important resource which is a Wild and Scenic River designation.”

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Planning Board Grants Preserve Plan Extension

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 10th 2024

RICHMOND – At their Tuesday meeting, members of the Planning Board agreed to grant a one-year extension to the preliminary plan approval for Phase 2B of the ongoing development at The Preserve at Boulder Hills. The initial approval was issued on Jan. 11, 2022.

Two one-year extensions of preliminary plan approvals are permitted “for good cause,” under the town’s land development and subdivision regulations.

Appearing for the Preserve, owner and developer Paul Mihailides said he intended to move forward with plans to build residences, a medical office building, and a gas station, but he continued to press for tax relief.

“I was actually hoping before we started this new phase, to try to get some resolution to the taxes,” he said.

Board Chair Philip Damicis asked Mihailides about the work that would be taking place.

“Can you give us an idea of maybe what we could expect, possibly for some future development in there, what you have in mind? he asked. “It’s not specific to this phase, just overall.”

Milhailides responded,

“As it relates to this phase, everything that’s in the phase is going to be started quickly,” he said. “The townhouses will be started, the single - family homes will be started. The tiny homes will be started soon, like in the next 90 days.”

Mihailides added that his representatives had been working with Town Planner Talia Jalette on the plans for the medical office building and the gas station.

“That’s on the docket as well as some additional development in some of the other phases. One of the off-property parcels that we have, we’re going to be developing some homes as well,” he said.

 

Outstanding issues

 

The Preserve has not yet notified the town how it plans to satisfy the state’s inclusionary zoning requirement. Applicants are required to build, either on or off-site, three affordable housing units for every 20 market priced homes. The fee, In lieu of the affordable units, is $87,000 per unit.

In her memo to the board, submitted on 12-29-2003, Jalette stated,

To date, this Department has not received either:

  1. fees in-lieu of affordable housing for the three units, or

  2. documentation of three off-site affordable units.

 

Board Vice Chair Daniel Madnick asked Mihailides when he planned to pay the affordable housing fees, which currently total $261,000.

“If it’s just the $87,000 on the first six units, it’ll be paid… in the next two weeks,” Mihailides said, adding that the delay in fulfilling the requirement was related to the property tax rate

“It’s a function of, why would I pay $287,000, ‘$261,000,’ Madnick corrected, “if I’m not going to build because nobody’s going to buy them because the taxes on a condominium are $50,000 annually. I’m trying to work that out. That’s kind of been a challenge. The tax on a new home, I’m told, might be as much as $187,000.”

“To put it in perspective,” Damicis said jokingly, “that’s one or two nice shotguns.”

The Preserve has repeatedly challenged property tax assessments before the Board of Tax Assessment Review. Mihailides has also publicly stated that prospective buyers, most of whom are purchasing third or fourth vacation homes, would be deterred by the high property taxes. It should be noted, however, that homes at The Preserve have continued to sell, including a unit that fetched $10.9 million, the highest condominium price in Rhode Island in 2023.

 

 

Jalette also informed the board that the town had not received copies of several of the Department of Environmental Management approvals of the onsite waste water treatment, or septic systems. Mihailides said the permits had been sent to the town more than a year ago, but Jalette said the town was still missing the remaining permits.

“For this particular phase, when this submission came in, there were only three OWTS permits included as part of the submission. There are six OWTS systems out there, so I need the three additional permits,” she said.

 

The board approved the request for a one-year extension of the preliminary plan approval.

 

Zoning Amendments

 

After a brief discussion, members voted to send their proposed amendments to Title 2 of the Zoning Code of Ordinances to the Town Council. Drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the amendments are required in order to comply with changes to state laws.

 

Kingstown Road Development

 

The board granted a waiver which will allow the developer, Shoreline Properties Inc., to make some improvements to the exterior of a commercial structure that will be part of a mixed - use development at 102 Kingstown Road. The town prohibits work on a property while an application is before the Planning Board, however, the board agreed to grant a waiver to allow some work, such as the replacement of windows, exterior painting and re-siding and electrical system upgrades, to take place.

 

Punchbowl Trail

 

Engineer Patrick Freeman provided details of the pre-application for a proposed conservation development, “Perry Hill,” on Punchbowl Trail. The developer is the Punchbowl Trail Corporation of North Providence.

“The plan shows a conventional five-lot subdivision, where each parcel would consist of two acres,”

Freeman explained that the proposal involved a five-lot conservation development, with each lot consisting of 30,000 square feet. 

“Each of the five parcels, we’re proposing to develop a four-bedroom single family home which will be serviced by a private well and onsite wastewater treatment system,” he said.

The developer would designate 6.8 acres of the 11.21-acre parcel as open space. 

Damicis said it would be important to include a drainage component that would be in keeping with the rural character of the parcel.

“You’re going to have to be very careful how you design that, obviously,” he said. “We’d expect more of a rain garden with proper plantings. As long as we’re all on the same page that we’re not looking at a classic detention basin with, you know, riprap and fencing around it that’s going to be horrible to look at from that street. And the streetscape for Punchbowl is extremely rural in that area.”

Board members agreed to schedule a site walk of the property in the near future.

Richmond in the News

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 8th 2024

Preserve Condo fetches Highest Condo Price in 2023:

Providence Journal

 

The Preserve was the focus of a Jan. 3, 2024 story in the Providence Journal by reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite, who wrote that a six-bedroom condominium Unit N4, at 87 Kingstown Road, had sold for $10.9 million, the highest condominium price in the state in 2023.

This news may not sit well with Richmond residents who are struggling to pay their property taxes, especially those who attended the June 6, 2023 Town Council meeting, during which four of the five council members approved a request from The Preserve that would allow the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial tax exemptions on the property.

Addressing the council, Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides raised eyebrows when he said the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.

(Citing her discomfort with many aspects of the bill, including its last-minute submission without her knowledge, Rep. Megan Cotter withdrew the proposed bill.)

The Preserve has challenged almost every property tax assessment, and settled an outstanding tax bill just hours before license renewal hearings in November, which required that the taxes be paid before the licenses would be renewed. A representative of The Preserve brought two checks to the Town Hall, the first, $37,069.45, for outstanding property taxes and a second check, for $11,543.36, to pay the town water bill.

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School Committee Votes to Censure Hopkinton Member

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

January 4th 2024

RICHMOND – At a special meeting on Wednesday, members of the Chariho School Committee voted by a margin of 7 to 4 to censure Hopkinton member Polly Hopkins for violating the rules of conduct for committee members. (The 12th member, Tyler Champlin of Hopkinton, was absent.)

Charlestown member Andrew McQuaide made the motion to censure Hopkins, first reading Hopkins’ Nov. 7 social media post about Chariho teacher Sandra Laub, that led to a complaint and then, the special meeting and the vote.

“Someone should check on Sandra Laub,” Hopkins wrote. “After her notorious role paying Golda Meir, she leapt onto the anti-racist bandwagon and whole-bodily supported the ARTF [the Anti Racist Task Force] at Chariho. She must be splitting in 2 between support of Israel and Hamas. Comrades should support comrades. Snort.”

The conduct violations concern provisions of the “Code of Basic Management Principles and Ethical Standards for School Committee Members”. Section 3F states that members’ concerns about district employees’ performance or character should be brought to Chariho Superintendent Gina Picard or committee Chair Catherine Giusti.

McQuaide elaborated on Sections 16 and 17 of the code.

“The Chariho School Committee accepts the obligation to operate the public schools in accordance with the fundamental principles and standards of school management, which principles include, but are not limited to, the following: 16: Avoid criticizing employees publicly, 17: Strive to promote harmonious working relations with all School Committee members and school staff that are based on mutual respect, fairness and openness,” he read.

The complaint to the School Committee was made by the teachers’ union representative, NEA Chariho President Vin Levcowich, who was contacted by Sandra Laub.

Levcowich presented his complaint to the committee at its previous meeting.

“I am here today to address an abhorrent and hateful public statement made by a member of this committee about a certified educator in this District,” he wrote. “School Committee member Polly Hopkins posted the following despicable comment to Facebook.”

Describing Hopkins’ words as “hateful,” Levcowich asked the committee to consider its code of ethics and “practice what they preach when one of their own clearly violates their principles and ethics.”

McQuaide said it appeared that Hopkins did not regret her post.

“I am not aware of any instance, since becoming aware of this, in which member Hopkins has shown any remorse for her statement,” he said.

Hopkins, in response, read a written statement.

“Thank you, Andrew,” she said. “This attempt at ridiculous political shenanigans is why parents are becoming increasingly enraged, and engaged, in our school district and its politics. An accusation has been made that I broke a rule. I did not. It is important that we address these issues through open dialogue, respectful debate and collaborative efforts rather than resorting to censuring fellow members.”

Several committee members condemned Hopkins’ post, and a few defended her right to free speech.

Richmond member Kathryn Colasante said she had not interpreted Hopkins’ post as hate speech.

“I do not look at this as being hateful towards the teacher,” she said. “I really think it was a political discussion. If I thought it was hateful towards any person, then I would agree with this censure.”

Hopkinton member Larry Phelps also opposed the censure.

“We have the right to speak online and social media,” he said. “It’s our right under God and the constitution. I’m not going to vote ‘yes’ to do this. It’s just a dog and pony show to me and you feel brave and strong that you did something tonight.”

Linda Lyall, of Charlestown, said she was waiting for an explanation from Hopkins as to why she had made the post.

“I don’t even know what, Polly, what was the purpose of this, and I don’t know if you want to answer that, because you never explained yourself in your comments and I guess you’re not sorry that you posted it,” she said.

 

The Public Comments

 

The first person to comment was the subject of Hopkins’ post, Chariho teacher Sandra Laub.

“It [the post] conflates my support for social justice causes with my supposed support for Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the slaughter of Jews and the destruction of Israel. That is a false and slanderous statement. It impugns my identity as a Jew, affects my standing in the community, my credibility as a teacher and therefore, my ability to do my job effectively,” she said.

Also condemning Hopkins’ post were Hopkinton Town Council member Stephen Moffit and Rep. Megan Cotter, who represents Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond.

“I believe it is essential to maintain a respectful and inclusive environment that fosters growth and supports all individuals,” Moffit said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Hopkins’ actions have demonstrated a violation of principles, impacting students, staff members and members of our community.”

Cotter said,

“The member in question, using social media to target Chariho teachers and spread suspicion and lies, some comments are hidden in private Facebook groups while other comments are open for all. It is clear that the statement about Ms. Laub was carefully crafted and she [Hopkins] stands by what she says.”

Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante said he supported civil discussions.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get up and say anything, but being kind of, like, right in the thick of this, people have asked me ‘what’s the difference in the 32-year gap from sitting on the council the first time to sitting 32 years later the second time’. What I have to say is that there is very little civility, there’s little decorum and there’s little class today.”

He was less than civil a few seconds later.

“Other people have a right to defend themselves,” he said. “Everybody does. It’s free speech and when somebody’s going after you, they really don’t understand the true intention of your heart, damn you!”

 

The Vote

 

Four committee members, Phelps, Patricia Pouliot, Kathryn Colasante and Hopkins voted against censure and the remaining seven members voted in favor, so McQuaide’s motion, which was seconded by Charlestown member Craig Louzon, passed.

Hopkins, who sat with her head down through most of the meeting, offered no apology, but maintained that her post had been submitted to a private group and had not, therefore, been public. She ended her comment with an account of a visit she had made to the site of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp.

“This is a political commentary on the current events,” she said. “It has nothing to do with religious. I’m sorry, Mrs. Laub. I didn’t know you were Jewish. I don’t look at people that way.”

 

Does the Censure Mean Anything?

 

Contacted Thursday, Guisti said the censure was symbolic, but meaningful.

“Really, all last night did was give the rest of the School Committee the opportunity to either say they agreed with Polly and what she said or to rebuke it as having crossed the line,” she said. “It does not take away any power from Polly, it does not take away the way she can interact as a School Committee member. I don’t think Polly took anything away from that meeting. It was just an opportunity for the rest of us to affirm, with the general public, that she went too far.”

Jessica Purcell, who represents Richmond on the committee, explained why she had supported the censure.

“I think it was up to us to govern ourselves and draw a line in the sand about what’s acceptable and what’s not,” she said. “In this case, a teacher felt targeted and they were looking for action, so they came to us. The censure doesn’t have much of an impact, and far as preventing anyone from doing anything, or taking any of their rights away, but it does set a standard that we uphold our rules of conduct.”

No Applicants for Town Solicitor Position

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January 3rd 2024

RICHMOND – With no applicants so far for the Town Solicitor position, Town Council members agreed at Tuesday’s meeting to extend the application deadline by two weeks, from Jan 5 to Jan. 19.

The current solicitor, Karen Ellsworth, who has served the town since 2005, withdrew her application for the renewal of her contract, which expires on Jan. 31.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch asked council members how they wished to proceed with the hiring process.

“I just want the council to discuss, and give me input on, how do you want to move forward with the hiring of a solicitor?” she said.” I did post an RFP but once those have come in, the [deadline] date is Friday.”

Pinch asked whether the council would prefer to discuss the applicants in executive session, and also be involved in the interviews.

Councilor Michael Colasante said he believed that the council should not simply receive a recommendation from the Town Administrator, but take a more active role,  choosing from a list of qualified candidates.

Quoting a section of the Home Rule Charter, Colasante said,

“The administrator shall submit a list of qualified candidates, not a recommendation, for department directors...I would like to see the administrator forward all the applicants and resumes and discuss setting up an interview process conducted by the Town Council members as a whole.”

Councilor Samantha Wilcox pointed out that the charter was referring to the hiring of department heads, and that the Town Solicitor is not a department head.

“Those quotes are regarding department heads,” she said. “Just for clarity, the Town Solicitor isn’t a department head, but an independent contractor.”

Wilcox added that the procedure would depend on the number of applications the town received.

Council President Mark Trimmer asked Pinch,

“Karen, how many do we have so far?”

“As of right now, there’s none,” Pinch said.

The council voted to extend the application deadline to Jan. 19.

 

Why No Applicants?

 

The reason for the dearth of Town Solicitor applicants depends on whom you ask.

“It might be our town’s reputation as being kind of volatile right now,” Trimmer said. “It wouldn’t be a nice place to work.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney agreed.

“I’m concerned that the optics of this council so far have been one where people don’t want to work together, so why is a solicitor going to run to the door to take the job? I think it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.

Wilcox was more optimistic, attributing the lack of applicants to the busy holiday season.

“It’s that time of year,” she said. “We posted the job mid-December and then we have a number of holidays at the end of the year, so it’s a frequent time to take vacations, frequent time to not really be looking for a job.”

But there’s another deadline looming. Ellsworth’s last day is Jan. 30 and without a single applicant, the town isn’t even close to finding a replacement.

“I was planning to give Karen Pinch a call today to try and figure out what our contingency was going to be,” Trimmer said.

 

EDC Resignations

 

The council voted without discussion, and without the customary “with regret,” to accept the resignations of Economic Development Commission President Bryan LeBeau and member Louise Dinsmore. In her six-page letter of resignation, Dinsmore focused her ire on Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox “who would rather play politics and refuse to prioritize economic development.”

Wilcox, who was singled out for additional criticism in Dinsmore’s letter, felt it necessary to submit a statement of her own, which she read at the council meeting.

Wilcox’s statement reads, in part,

“Ms. Dinsmore is entitled to her personal opinion about me and I’m not going to take that away from her but I would like to remind everyone that the EDC letter dated 11/10/2023 acknowledged the service and unwavering dedication of myself and Councilor Colasante. After the EDC presentation, I asked some questions via email and offered feedback that is available in their minutes. After the EDC meetings, I was thanked by multiple members for my input. For what it's worth, I attend all other commission and committee meetings periodically to check in, offer feedback and see if there is anything they need help with.”

There are now three vacancies on the commission.

 

Ethics Training

 

A Rhode Island Ethics Commission training session for council members and members of boards and commissions was scheduled for Jan. 30.

Colasante asked whether the training was voluntary and Town Clerk Erin Liesse replied,

“The Rhode Island Ethics reached out to me and highly suggested Richmond trainings,” she said.

 

Police Heroes Recognized

 

Two Richmond police officers were recognized by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association at a ceremony on Dec. 12 for saving the life of a man whose vehicle had crashed into the water.

Chief of Police and association member, Elwood Johnson, told the council that Sergeant William Litterio and Patrolman Anthony Meola, had received the Distinguished Service Award for rescuing a man whose car had gone off the bridge and crashed, upside down, in the water at Horseshoe Falls. The accident occurred at about 1 a.m. on July 1, 2023.

Johnson described the harrowing conditions that night.

“It actually went roof first into the water,” he said. “The river was swollen and the current was raging. A lot of people, even if you have footing, chest deep, swept away, you just can’t regain and it was pitch black.”

Johnson continued his account of the two officers’ rescue of the driver, a 38-year-old man who, at first, did not want any help.

“They put themselves at risk. They had to navigate down this heavily vegetated embankment, work to get to the closest point they could to get to the victim in the river. As they’re trying to get him to cooperate with them and catch a line that they were going to throw, he didn’t want to be bothered.  He was somewhat despondent and wanted to be left in the river to die.

These officers encouraged him, ‘Listen, you matter. Just do what we tell you. We’re going to get you to safety.’

They threw a line. He caught it. They gave him instructions to tie it around his waist and when he took his first step toward them, he submerged, but because the line was on him, they were able to pull him in and with his assistance, got him to safety.”

Johnson said the quick actions by the two officers prevented other first responders from being exposed to the dangerous conditions.

“The ceremonies were really nice,” he said. “Their families were there to witness this. It was great work by those two officers.”

Looking Back on 2023

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 29th 2023

 

January

Nancy Hess

The year had barely begun when the Town Council voted at the Jan. 3 meeting to not reappoint Planning Board Vice Chair, Nancy Hess.

Hess, who works in the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning and was the town’s expert on land use, had served on the board for about 20 years and was also instrumental in drafting the comprehensive plan.

Over the objection of Planning Board Chair, Phil Damicis, three councilors, Helen Sheehan, Michael Colasante and council President Mark Trimmer,  voted against Hess’s reappointment. The reason given for the vote was Hess’s alleged belligerence with applicants. It is not clear which applicant complained, but council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox were blindsided by the vote, especially Nassaney, who said he had witnessed an exchange between Hess and Trimmer that had concluded with Trimmer telling Hess that he would support her reappointment.

At the Jan. 10 Planning Board meeting, members named Hess board Chair. It was a symbolic, but significant gesture.

Damicis warned at the time that Hess’s departure at the end of January would be a significant loss to the town.

“I’m incredibly disappointed in this council for not reappointing her and I think this town is going to suffer because of that,” he said.

 

Jessica Purcell

January also marked the beginning of the Chariho School Committee debacle. With the resignation of school committee member, Gary Ligouri, Jessica Purcell, who had received the second-greatest number of votes in the November 2022 election, expected that she would be sworn in to replace him. Instead, there began a protracted legal battle between council members with Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante appointing Clay Johnson to the vacant seat. The reason they citied was the Chariho Act, which, as state law, took precedence over the town’s Home Rule Charter and allowed the council to appoint a school committee member. Purcell supporters argued that the town’s Home Rule Charter stated that the seat should be filled by the next highest vote-getter.

The issue generated so much attention that the Jan. 17 council meeting was canceled because the crowd in the council chambers exceeded the legal limit.

At the rescheduled council meeting, held a couple of days later in the Chariho Middle School auditorium, Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante ignored the angry shouts from the audience and voted to appoint Johnson. Nassaney and Wilcox voted against the Johnson appointment.

At a Chariho School Committee meeting on Jan 24, Purcell announced that she had hired an attorney and would take her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Attorney Joseph Larisa was hired to represent Johnson and the town.

 

The Billboard

The political rhetoric ramped up at the end of the month with the appearance, on Jan. 28, of a billboard on Kingstown Road featuring Colasante, Sheehan and Trimmer, calling themselves the “Gang of Three,” in response to a letter to the editor by Democrat Kristen Chambers. The sign, paid for by the three council members, was removed a week later when it was determined that the councilors had neglected to apply for town permit to display it.

 

February

The “Tritown Coalition”

Colasante announced that he had met with representatives from Hopkinton and Charlestown to discuss education and unfunded state mandates.

“These other towns, like us, are in the same predicament, and it’s good to work with these towns without the bureaucratic red tape because again, keeping it local, local town councils working together, is stronger than any state organization that is given to us to try and coordinate us,” he told the council. “The other towns know of this and they were very excited to hear that we were getting this started.”

Contacted after Colasante’s announcement, neither Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney nor a senior Hopkinton administrator had heard anything about the coalition, or the meeting.

 

The Chariho Budget

At the Feb 7 School Committee meeting, newly-appointed member, Clay Johnson, voted against the proposed budget, because he said the school district’s cost per pupil was too high.

Chariho’s cost per pupil is the second-lowest of Rhode Island’s four regional school districts.

 

Daniel Ashworth

At the Feb. 21 Town Council meeting, Daniel Ashworth, a police officer who is also a firearms instructor at The Preserve, but did not disclose that connection at the time of his appointment, was named to the Planning Board with only Wilcox opposed. (Nassaney was absent.)

Ashworth has attended only a handful of Planning Board meetings since his appointment, and has had to recuse himself from discussions pertaining to The Preserve.

 

Wellness Director

Also at the Feb. 21 council meeting, Colasante and Sheehan tried, and failed, to eliminate the town’s newly-created Wellness Director position.

 

March

The Vaillancourt Saga Begins

At the March 7 meeting, held in the Chariho Middle School auditorium to accommodate the crowd, Colasante, supported by Trimmer and Sheehan, rejected Town Planner Shaun Lacey’s recommendation to hire Michael Rosso as the town’s electrical inspector. At the next council meeting, the three councilors voted to hire Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who had run as a Republican for a council seat in 2022.

 

The “Tri Town Coalition” a no-go

With acrimony reaching the point where council members were reluctant to even sit near Colasante, three of the five councilors, Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox, voted to decline an invitation to join the “Tri Town Coalition.”

 

April

Beaver River Solar

The month began with a major legal defeat for the town and a victory for a solar developer, GD Beaver River I LLC and William Stamp Jr.

The decision, by Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft-Carter, stated that the reasons for the Zoning Board’s denial of the application were “unsupported” and ordered the board to immediately issue a special use permit for the project.

Construction is currently underway on the solar energy project, with many residents remaining opposed to the commercial facility being permitted in the Beaver River Valley, which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The town, and abutting property owner John Peixinho, have each petitioned the court for a “Writ of Certiorari,” which would ask the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision.

 

Supreme Court Arguments

On April 13, the Rhode Island Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Jessica Purcell, Clay Johnson School Committee case.

 

Chariho Budget Passes

On April 4, despite the efforts of the Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers and Clay Johnson urging voters to reject it, the $57 million Chariho schools budget passed by a wide margin.

 

The Roundabout

On April 28, preparation began for the construction of the roundabout at the intersection of Routes 112 and 138.

 

May

The Town Budget

In late May, days before the referendum on the town budget, another letter from Clay Johnson was sent to residents. This letter urged them to reject the spending plan.

 

Riverhead Expansion

Riverhead Building Supply announced a $20 million expansion of its facility on Kingstown Road.

 

June

The Town Budget Rejected

The proposed town budget was soundly defeated in a referendum on June 5. The vote was 271 in favor and 390 opposed.

The council voted, at the June 7 meeting, to approve the amendments that would make it possible for the town to continue to operate with the existing budget.

 

Tax Breaks for The Preserve

The council approved a request by The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences for enabling legislation that would make it possible for the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial tax exemptions on the property.

Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides annoyed some residents when, while addressing the council, he justified his request for tax cuts, saying the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.

The bill was hand delivered to the State House by a representative of The Preserve. It was pulled by State Rep. Megan Cotter, however, who said she could not answer questions from fellow lawmakers about the bill because she had not been told anything about it.

 

Vaillancourt - Again

The council also considered dismissing the new Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, following complaints about his behavior, but decided instead to extend his probationary period.

 

Lacey Resigns

Town Planner Shaun Lacey announced his resignation. His last day was July 28.

 

July

Purcell Wins

On July 18, the Supreme Court released its decision on the Chariho School Committee case, finding for Jessica Purcell. Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg was the lone dissenter. Clay Johnson was removed from the committee seat and Purcell took his place.

At a special meeting on July 21, Jessica Purcell was sworn in as a Richmond School Committee member.

 

New Planner

The council also voted at July 21 meeting, with Colasante opposed, to hire Talia Jalette as the new Town Planner.

 

Aquifer Protection

At a public hearing on July 18, the council, with Colasante and Sheehan opposed, approved amendments to the town’s Aquifer Protection Ordinance.

 

New Survey

Residents of Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown were asked to complete a survey on their priorities for capital improvements to the four Chariho elementary schools.

 

August

Colasante and taxes

Colasante continued to argue that Richmond has the second-highest tax burden in the state.

 

Larisa’s Legal Services Bill

The town paid the $22,240 bill, submitted by attorney Joseph Larisa, who was unsuccessful in his defense of the town and Clay Johnson in the Jessica Purcell Chariho School Committee case.

 

The Fair

On Aug. 19, so many people converged on the Washington County Fair that day that organizers had to stop selling tickets to allow the traffic gridlock to clear.

 

Vaillancourt – Again

There were more complaints about the behavior of the town’s Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, this time from representatives of the Washington County Fair. He continues to serve as the town’s Electrical Inspector.

 

September

New Legislation

The council began grappling with changes resulting from eight new land use bills passed by the state legislature. Cities and towns must be in compliance with the new laws by Jan. 1 2024. 

 

Cannabis

The Town Council approved zoning amendments to allow retail cannabis sales.

The council also voted to partner with Hopkinton on a new community center.

 

RCA

A new political action committee, the Richmond Community Alliance, published its first newsletter.

 

Motocross

The Town Council approved amendments to the zoning and comprehensive plan to allow a motocross track on a property on Buttonwoods Road owned by Jordan Carlson.

 

October

Scott Barber

Scott Barber, who served for more than 24 years as the Director of Public Works, announced at the Oct. 3 council meeting that he would be retiring on Feb. 1.

 

The Generator

During that Town Council meeting, Colasante proposed that the town, which had already gone out to bid for an emergency generator for the Town Hall and had chosen the winning company, consider a different company that had not participated in the bidding process.

Several people, including two council members, said they found Colasante’s proposal disturbing and warned that re-opening the bidding after a company had been selected might expose the town to legal action. With Colasante opposed, the council voted to award the generator contract to the winning bidder, Calson Corporation.

 

Colasante Goes After Wilcox

During the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting, Colasante verbally attacked councilor Samantha Wilcox. Colasante’s refusal to relinquish the floor necessitated an intervention by Police Chief Elwood Johnson.

 

November

Colasante contacted the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office and the ACLU regarding the role of the police in preventing him from speaking at the Oct. 17 meeting.

Richmond’s new dog park opened.

 

December

The EDC

At the Dec. 11 meeting of the Economic Development Commission, four of the six commission members resigned, citing frustration with, and a lack of cooperation from the Town Council.

When the meeting adjourned, Colasante launched a verbal attack on one of the two remaining members, Pete Burton. Burton later said that he did not know the motive for Colasante’s attack.

 

Ethics Complaints

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted to investigate three ethics complaints, two against Colasante and one against Nassaney.

 

Ellsworth to Depart

At the Dec. 20 council meeting, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, who has provided legal services to the town since 2005, withdrew her request for reappointment. Ellsworth ran afoul of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi for remarks she made about the state’s new land use bills. She had also lost the support of the majority of Town Council members.

 

A few words from the Town Council President…

BRVCA asked Mark Trimmer to comment on the past year’s council activities.

“Disappointingly divisive. That’s how I would describe it in two words,” he said. “Mike [Colasante] and a few of his followers seem to be just trying to make sure that if their kind of progress is not made, then no progress gets made at all.”

Trimmer also suggested that Colasante’s behavior had contributed to the departures of valued town employees.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” he said. “I would say that he contributed to driving two long term integral employees in our town out of our town. … It’s really just stood in the way of doing what’s best for the town. It’s as though ‘you play the game my way, or we won’t let you play at all.’”

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Search for Solicitor Begins

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 20th 2023

RICHMOND – The last Town Council meeting of the year was not overly long and did not include any major squabbles between council members. There were, however, some disagreements.

 

Solicitor Leaving

 

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, who has served the town since 2005, has not enjoyed the unanimous support of the council in recent years and this year, with councilor Samantha Wilcox opposed to her reappointment, and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante also opposed, it was clear that Ellsworth no longer had the support of a council majority.

In a letter dated Dec. 7, 2023, Ellsworth withdrew her request for reappointment when her term expires on Jan. 31, 2024.

The position was posted on the town’s website on Dec. 14.

 

Economic Development Commission

 

Council members devoted considerable time to discussing the beleaguered Economic Development Commission and the resignations last week of four of its six members.

The only EDC member to have submitted his resignation in writing is B. Joseph Reddish. The council, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed, voted to send letters to EDC members, Bryan LeBeau, Louise Dinsmore, and Joan Kent, asking them to submit their resignations in writing.

Commission Clerk David Woodmansee and member Pete Burton did not resign, but Burton was loudly scolded after the Dec. 11 meeting in the council chambers, by Colasante.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, however, Colasante took a very different tone when councilors discussed the members who had resigned.

“Guys, it’s the holidays right now,” he said. “Let’s give them a break. Let’s show a little bit of Christianity here, all right? For this time of year.”

Trimmer, himself a Christian, was incensed.

“Honestly, that’s probably the angriest I’ve ever been at a Town Council meeting,” he said Wednesday. “When Colasante said ‘let’s be Christian and send out the olive branch.’ He’s the guy who was berating somebody.”

Citing a lack of progress by the current and previous EDCs, Trimmer proposed replacing the commission with a Chamber of Commerce that would include representatives from local businesses. Trimmer’s idea will be discussed at future council meetings.

 

Chariho Schools

 

Council members said they needed more information about discussions currently taking place regarding the possible consolidation of some Chariho schools and the construction of a new school.

Trimmer said Wednesday that he understood that some of the district’s school buildings were very old and might not warrant further investment, but he repeated his concern that the taxpayers might end up footing the bill for the latest state mandate, which encourages school districts to have “newer and fewer” school buildings.

“I’m trying to be open-minded about it, reasonable about it,” he said. “To me, everyone that says they’re against funding new schools is accused of being anti-child anti-student, and everyone who’s for building the new schools is accused of being frivolous and irresponsible with their money. It would be nice if we could get everybody to stop pointing fingers and calling names, and just try to work out a solution.”

Trimmer said he planned to attend the community vision meeting on Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. in the high school library. The public will have an opportunity to ask questions about the Chariho budget as well as school consolidation.

 

The Road Bond

 

Richmond voters, in 2022, approved a bond authorizing the town to borrow up to $2.5 million for road work. Colasante proposed reducing the amount borrowed by $410,800, which is the amount of a state municipal road grant.

Colasante said his intent was to try to save taxpayers money.

“As far as I’m concerned, that total bond should include the principal and interest for that, so $2.5 million should include the interest,” he said. “People did not vote to approve a $2.85 million bond.”

Finance Director Laura Kenyon said she had prepared a memo, included in the meeting packet, that spelled out the road projects and the sources of funding.

“You have the information I have sent a memo with the schedules, so you have the information,” she said. “We are very close to what we are talking about through that memo and schedules. A lot of issues have been raised. The first one that comes to mind is the fact of the approval of a 2.5 bond. It is not customary to say ‘including interest’ when you’re approving a bond.”

Council President Mark Trimmer said the town’s roads were in desperate need of repair, noting that residents often complained to him about them.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox reminded councilors that the road bond had already been discussed.

Colasante proposed removing one of the roads from the list and having the town pay for that work and Sheehan said the town’s Department of Public Works had paved roads in the past and could pave more.

With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, the council approved a motion to borrow up to $2.5 million for road work.

 

The Rhode Island 250th Commission

 

Deputy Secretary of State Rob Rock presented information on plans for celebrating the state’s 250th anniversary and invited the town to participate.

“One of the other things the commission was tasked with is working with other organizations to commemorate the 250th anniversary, which is going to take place in 2026, and one of the commission members had an idea of going to all 39 cities and towns and asking that they put together a local 250th committee to help commemorate the anniversary in their city and town,” he said. “We’d like to invite the town in some way, shape or form, to create a local committee. We have gone to 26 other councils so far, and so far, 26 councils have agreed, in some way, to either establish a new committee or take an existing committee and put this task on them.”

State funding will be available to assist the towns with their participation.

Rock’s pitch received an enthusiastic response from the council.

“We should start a committee of some sort, so we can partner with the state and be a part of it,” Wilcox said. “I could speak with the President of the historical society.”

Trimmer added,

“I think it would be great to have a committee that would include the EDC, the Town Hall, [Town Administrator] Karen [Pinch] and so on, the Town Council.

Sheehan suggested inviting students to take part.

“The schools, too, can do all kinds of writing projects. The kids would probably find it very interesting to learn about their ancestors,” she said.

The formation of a committee will be added to the agenda of the next council meeting.

 

Stop Signs and Small Business Grants

 

In a public hearing, the council approved a zoning ordinance amendment to allow the installation of a new stop sign on Hillsdale Road at Tug Hollow Road and Bell Schoolhouse Road.

 

Pinch announced that several local businesses had been

proposed as recipients of $5,000 small business grants.

The council approved seven awards of $5,000 each to: Barbara’s Beauty Shop, Mae Lumen Salon, Celebrated, Mama Earth, Navigators Coffee/High Grounds, Pasquale Farms Garden Center and the Bronson Family Farm.

More Ethics Complaints

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 19th 2023

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted on Dec. 12 to open an investigation following a complaint filed by Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney against councilor Michael Colasante.

The complaint alleges that Colasante had a business relationship with D’Ambra Construction and Richmond Sand & Stone, but did not recuse himself from votes to award contracts for paving North Road and Tug Hollow Road. In both cases, Colasante made motions to award the contracts to D’Ambra and then voted.

The complaint describes a business relationship between Colasante and the two companies, in which those companies did work at Colasante’s Buttonwoods Sawmill.

The council voted to award the North Road contract on Aug. 15 and on Sept. 8, equipment from both companies was observed doing work at the sawmill property.

On Oct. 13, equipment from D’Ambra Construction and Richmond Sand & Stone was again seen working on Colasante’s sawmill property. At the Oct. 17 council meeting, Colasante made a motion and voted in favor of granting the Tug Hollow contract to D’Ambra Construction.

Nassaney explained,

“It was the simple fact that he had at the time a relationship with D’Ambra Construction. There’s photos and videos of D’Ambra Construction equipment running on his property after he approved the bid for D’Ambra Construction to do the North Road and the Tug Hollow Road projects for the town.”

The vote to award the two paving contracts was unanimous, so Colasante’s recusal would not have changed the final outcome.

“If he would have recused, because it would not have affected the vote in any way, I wouldn’t have said ‘boo’,” Nassaney added. “He, whether knowingly or not, had a relationship with D’Ambra Construction. You just have to recuse from anything that has to do with the town.”

In his response to the complaint, Colasante said he had been doing business with Richmond Sand & Stone, not D’Ambra Construction. However, in photographs of Colasante’s sawmill property, the name “D’Ambra” is clearly visible on the earth-moving equipment.

In addition, state documents show that D’Ambra is the Registered Agent for both companies.

The Ethics Commission has 180 days to complete its investigation.

 

The Second Complaint

 

A second complaint against Colasante, filed by council President Mark Trimmer, is also under investigation. The complaint pertains to Colasante’s involvement in council decisions regarding Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who, the complaint alleges, was also doing work for Colasante at the time.

 

A Complaint Against Nassaney

 

The Ethics Commission is also investigating a third complaint, filed by former council President Nell Carpenter, pertaining to Richard Nassaney’s business relationship with Pasquale Farms, which was selling Nassaney’s hot sauce.

In an executive session on June 6, 2023, council members discussed the job performance of Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt and a complaint made to the town by Pasquale Farms regarding Vaillancourt’s behavior.

Nassaney recused himself from the discussion, because his “Rich’s Sweet Heat” sauce is sold at Pasquale Farms, but Carpenter stated that Nassaney still participated in the executive session, and in the open session that resumed after, and that Nassaney had also voted to take disciplinary action against Vaillancourt.

(It is not clear how Carpenter knew the details of the executive session discussion, since the minutes are sealed and she is not a council member.)

Nassaney said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation of Carpenter’s complaint.

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EDC Members Resign

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 15th 2023

RICHMOND – Most of the members of the Economic Development Commission, including its president, resigned at Monday’s EDC meeting, citing frustration with the Town Council.

As of this writing, the only member to submit his resignation in writing is commission Vice Chair, B. Joseph Reddish.

“I don’t feel that the Town Council is focused on wanting to support the EDC, based on their actions and comments that have been made by council members,” Reddish said Thursday. “I think we all, in our minds, were fed up and it came to culmination.”

In addition to Reddish, EDC Chairman Bryan LeBeau, and members Louise Dinsmore and Joan Kent resigned, leaving Commission Clerk David Woodmansee and member Peter Burton.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the members who resigned were breaking the oaths they had taken to serve the town.

“They took an oath to serve the town,” he said. “They did not keep their oath to serve the town and they did not communicate with the Town Council, other than a rather insulting letter that they sent.”

Trimmer said LeBeau had not responded to his telephone calls or emails, nor did he ever appear at council meetings.

“He didn’t return any of my phone calls or communications, emails, text messages and so on. I’ve been offering to meet with him since May. … I’ve spoken with him on the phone once, and I’ve had a brief text exchange with him, asking him if we could get together and talk, and he did not respond to me.”

Trimmer also noted that the commission had not responded to numerous invitations to attend Town Council meetings.

Going forward, he said the town would begin recruiting EDC members to replace those who had resigned.

“We look to fill the Economic Development Commission with people that will keep their oath and work for the benefit of the town,” he said.

Trimmer noted that he planned to invite Woodmansee to be a part of the ad hoc committee charged with attracting new businesses to the town.

Approved by the council in November, the committee will also include Trimmer, the Chair of the EDC, Town Planner Talia Jalette and Town Administrator Karen Pinch and would meet only when necessary.  

Councilor Samantha Wilcox, who attends commission meetings as an observer, said she had attempted to get the commission and the council to work together.

“I offered a workshop to get everyone on the same page and to work collaboratively, and instead, there’s four resignations, each person with their own reasons,” she said. “First, we need their official resignations, I believe,” she said. “From there, once we get new volunteers, I’d like for us to hold our workshop and get the new volunteers on the same page with council and move forward.”

Wilcox added that she was not anticipating any difficulties recruiting new commission members.

“I’m definitely confident we can get volunteers. I’ve reached out to a few people already, so we’ll see,” she said.

Trimmer added,

“At this point, I think the Town Council will need to assume the role of the EDC, and I think that I will ask David Woodmansee if he would be a representative on that ad hoc committee when we meet with potential investors in our town.

 

Colasante Attacks Burton

 

There was a perpexing incident after Monday’s EDC meeting in which council member Michael Colasante loudly berated the committee’s newest member, Peter Burton.

“Once the meeting adjourned, he walked from the back of council chambers up to the front where I was speaking with others and came right up to me and started bloviating, basically,” Burton said.

Asked what might have provoked the attack, Burton said he didn’t know.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure. He said that I glared at him. As usual, he wouldn’t give specifics, so I’m left to guess. …

He clearly didn’t want to have a rational discussion. That’s what was really obvious. He wanted to speak and I know what it’s like when you’re supposedly speaking with two people, where one person wants to do all the talking and interrupts whenever you try to interject to figure out what’s going on. That was it with him, basically. It’s pointless when somebody doesn’t want to have a rational conversation.”

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And Then There Were Two

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 13th 2023

MYSTIC, Conn. – A third beluga whale in the group of five imported from Ontario, Canada in 2021 has died at Mystic Aquarium. In an announcement Tuesday, the aquarium stated that nine-year-old Kharabali had begun showing signs of illness in November. She was moved to the aquarium’s intensive care area where she died on Monday.

“Kharabali is the third whale from Marineland to pass away after arriving at Mystic Aquarium,” the aquarium stated in the press release. “Havok, who passed in August of 2021, and Havana, who passed in February of 2022, both were found to have underlying incurable conditions which led to their deaths that were unable to be diagnosed while alive.”

A fourth whale of the five imported from Marineland also fell ill. The young female, “Jetta,” recovered and joined the general population.

 

Were the Whales Sick When They Left Canada?

 

The Animal Welfare Institute, (AWI) an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., opposed the importation of the whales and raised questions regarding their health before they left the Canadian facility.

In fact, Mystic Aquarium requested, and received permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service, to substitute three of the whales, who were believed to be sick, with healthy belugas. All five whales imported by the aquarium were born in captivity.

In a press release responding to the death of Kharabali, Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI’s senior scientist in marine biology, stated,

“AWI is deeply saddened to learn of Kharabali’s death. From the beginning, we have opposed Mystic’s request to import these five belugas, citing legal, policy and welfare implications. These whales were supposed to be healthy prior to transport, but it is likely that all had pre-existing conditions.”

Rose said the whales, all of which showed signs of illness in Canada, should not have been subjected to the additional stress of transport to the United States.

“Unless and until they were fully healthy, they shouldn’t have been imported,” she said in a separate interview Monday. “It’s never wise to transport sick whales. It’s stressful enough for them when they’re healthy. When they’re dealing with some sort of health issues, it’s extremely risky to move them, and the only time you do it is when not moving them is going to kill them.”

The import permit was issued for eight research projects that the aquarium had proposed.

“One of those projects was disallowed, because, … they prohibited breeding them and one of those projects was about reproduction,” Rose said.

The remaining seven projects were approved, but the research was suspended when Havok died. Then, in Feb. 2022, a second whale, Havana, died.

“They had not been doing any research, because they were not allowed to,” Rose said. “They were told by National Marine Fisheries Service to suspend their research until this was resolved.  Now that Jetta has recovered, I think they were considering lifting the suspension, but now, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 

Critical Violations

 

Following an inspection in Sept. 2021 by the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, the Sea Research Foundation, the research arm of the Mystic Aquarium was cited for three “critical violations.”

The first was the lack of veterinary care for Havok, as he was dying and in obvious distress. The USDA report states that aquarium personnel observed Havok as he suffered but did not call in a veterinarian until he had died.

The second incident also involved Havok, who had poor eyesight, and injured himself when he swam into a closed gate that separates the aquarium’s pools.

The third critical violation pertained to the conditions of the pools, which, the USDA stated, were not adequately maintained, and also contributed to Havok’s injuries.

 

Problems at Marineland

 

Marineland has been the target, not only of animal welfare groups, but Canadian and Ontario government regulators as well, who have found the facility lacking on many levels and have even filed charges of animal cruelty.

The facility was also home to Kiska, an orca who, until she died last March, floated listlessly and alone in a small, dark tank.

The Mystic Aquarium press release about Kharabali includes effusive praise from Marineland.

"We cannot thank Mystic Aquarium enough,” Marineland wrote. “They provide exceptional care for beluga whales, and despite being amid the challenges of COVID-19, in May 2021, Mystic Aquarium took these five whales on for us to provide the world-class care and expertise they needed. This collaboration underscores the global community's shared responsibility for animal welfare. Marineland is deeply thankful for Mystic Aquarium's professionalism and tireless efforts in safeguarding the health and happiness of these beloved marine creatures."

It is questionable whether four of five whales becoming sick and three of them dying, qualifies as “world class care.” If the zoo and aquarium community is, as it claims, committed to animal welfare, Rose urged its members to work together to help improve conditions at Marineland.

“Our message has always been the same, consistent and persistent, that the industry is its brother’s keeper,” she said. “They should go up there with their expertise – they’ve got all the expertise – they know how to take care of these animals in captivity, they keep telling us, they have the veterinarians. They need to go up there themselves and help Marineland. It is not our responsibility, even. First of all, we don’t have the expertise, but even if we did, are we going to take our members’ money and spend it on something the industry should be doing? Certainly, we’ve been very consistent in what we’ve been asking the industry to do, but the industry’s been blowing us off.”

Last week, as Kharabali was dying in one of its tanks, the aquarium was basking in the glow of favorable publicity on the release of a seal that was rehabilitated at the facility.

Rose wishes aquariums would stick to helping seals.

“That is the only thing the public display industry does that I find any common ground with,” she said. “The fact that they rescue and rehabilitate animals is the only thing that I approve of.”

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Town Solicitor Re-Appointment in Doubt

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA                                         

December 7th 2023

RICHMOND – The re-appointment of Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth remains in doubt after Town Council members agreed at their Dec. 5 meeting to defer the discussion of her performance and re-appointment to the executive session that will follow the next council meeting, on Dec. 19.

Ellsworth’s contract will expire on Jan. 31, 2024. She has served the town since 2005, but her tenure in recent years has been less than secure, and the list of those opposing her appears to be growing.

 

Past Efforts to Oust Ellsworth

 

Former Town Council President Nell Carpenter tried several times to terminate Ellsworth, first in August 2021, then in October, and again in January, 2022.

Councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed the renewal of Ellsworth’s 2023 contract, saying they needed more time to evaluate her performance. However, in the end, the council voted, with Colasante abstaining, to approve the contract.

 

This Time It’s Different

 

Ellsworth has never minced words when discussing the latest batch of land use bills to come out of the General Assembly, describing them as poorly drafted and confusing. But this time, it was House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi who learned of Ellsworth’s comments on the legislation and complained about her remarks to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch was then asked to contact the League’s Associate Director, Jordan Day. The specifics of that conversation have not been disclosed, but Ellsworth is reported to have made the offending comments at the Nov. 14 Planning Board meeting.

One of those comments can be found about an hour and a half into the meeting, where Ellsworth, referring to the new state legislation tells the Planning Board:

“My attitude is, if they make you do something stupid and you know it’s stupid, don’t do it, you know? I used to work up there. I know how they make sausage. They’re not right all the time. This is crazy. It’s crazy.”

Contacted Wednesday, both Pinch and Ellsworth declined to comment.

“I’m not going to comment, for the record, on anything, at this time,” Ellsworth said.

Council member, Samantha Wilcox, has had disagreements with Ellsworth in the past and is reported to support her ouster. One notable instance occurred last January, when Ellsworth stated that the Chariho Act superseded the Richmond Town Charter, opening the door for the Town Council to approve Clay Johnson for a vacant Chariho School Committee seat over second highest vote-getter, Jessica Purcell."

(Purcell took her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor. Purcell then replaced Johnson on the committee.)

Reached Wednesday, Wilcox said she did not feel that it would be appropriate to discuss Ellsworth’s job performance outside the executive session of the council.

“It’s a tough situation, because it’s job performance-related, that’s all,” she said.

However, Town Council President Mark Trimmer, who has supported Ellsworth, was more direct.

“Karen Ellsworth said what everyone else was thinking,” he said. “These land use laws and ordinances that are being pushed by the state are really, really bad news for the rural communities. I think their intent was to shift the burden of failed policies onto rural towns, and I’d say that on the record.”

 

Another Skirmish

 

A discussion involving Colasante, Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick and later, council Vice President Richard Nassaney, became so contentious that Trimmer and Nassaney asked for, and received, a short recess.

Council members were planning a joint workshop with the Economic Development Commission to discuss the re-zoning of certain areas of town to attract businesses.

Madnick explained that the Planning Board had considered the zone change proposal.

“The Planning Board got together and talked about how to facilitate economic development,” he said. “One of the things we discussed is how do we implement zoning changes that could facilitate additional economic development – mixed use, commercial. And we looked at our zoning maps. … We just felt like it would be useful, with all these discussions of economic development, to try to push the town forward and find some areas that we could potentially re-zone.”

Then, unexpectedly, Colasante asked Madnick, a member of the newly-formed Richmond Community Alliance political action committee, about something the alliance had posted.

“There’s that Richmond Community Alliance, I guess,” he said. “They had five points that I guess they posted recently. Did you pen these?”

Madnick replied,

“Is it relevant to this conversation?”

“Yeah, because it mentions the EDC,” Colasante said.

“So what’s your point? “Madnick asked. “Since we’re talking in public, why don’t you read those five points? Make the point you want to make.”

Trimmer interjected.

“I’m going to call it here,” he said. “This is not an agenda item.”

Colasante persisted.

“I was just curious Dan… It’s right there in print,” he said.

Trimmer repeated that the alliance was not on the council agenda.

Nassaney then weighed in, telling Colasante,

“You want to build bridges, but you’re constantly throwing bombs. Unbelievable,” he said.

“You’ve got your soapbox, Richard,” Colasante fired back.

Nassaney responded by asking Trimmer if he could take a two-minute break, and the council went into a recess.

Asked Wednesday about that exchange, Nassaney said,

“He [Madnick] got up and defended himself with factual points and then, when he was finished, Colasante decided to passively-aggressively point out the Richmond Community Alliance and he wanted to find out who’s writing it, and instead of doing it openly and honestly as a fair question, he has to do it in this snide manner, and at that point, I just lashed out and made my statement. He just constantly attacks people he says he wants to work with.”

 

Other Business

 

The council approved a resolution, introduced by Trimmer, opposing the recently - revived proposal to bring high speed rail through southern Rhode Island towns.

“It’s going to be going through tribal lands and wetlands, electricity and water don’t mix,” he said. “It’s an enormous amount of money being spent on a railroad that no one rides and I don’t think anyone would ride.”

Trimmer said he wanted the town to draft a resolution opposing the project, and Ellsworth said one had already been drafted the last time the rail line threat was looming.

Trimmer said the resolution would need to be updated with the names of the current council members and also reflect the changes to the proposed plan.

Trimmer also noted,

“I had a constituent called up and said that the rail would literally go through the front door of his house.”

 

The council did not pass a resolution, introduced by Colasante, in support of Israel in the Israel-Hamas war.

Sheehan and Colasante voted in favor, but Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox abstained.

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Council Divided on Retail Cannabis

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – The pressing need for economic development is the subject of discussion and debate at most Town Council meetings. New businesses would ease the property tax burden, which has been described by many residents as unsustainable, but the town has struggled to attract commercial development.

To make things worse, just up the road, another town is enjoying a substantial boost in commercial tax revenue. A retail cannabis store in the Town of Exeter has generated nearly $204,000 in tax revenue in 2023. That tax revenue is from a 3% “local tax” on retail cannabis sales.

Plant Based Compassionate Care Inc. operates the Sweetspot Dispensary, at 560 South County Trail in Exeter. It is the only cannabis retail store in South County, and the sixth outlet to receive a state license since retail recreational cannabis sales were approved in Dec. 2022. The licenses for the dispensaries were awarded in a state lottery, and up to 33 retail licenses could be awarded by the recently-formed Cannabis Control Commission.

In 2022, Rhode Island communities were given the option of asking residents to vote on whether to allow recreational cannabis sales or prohibit retail cannabis sales entirely. In towns like Exeter that did not hold a referendum, retail recreational cannabis sales are automatically permitted.

In the Richmond referendum, voters approved recreational cannabis sales in the town by a margin of 2,098 or 58.1% in favor to 1,513 0r 41.9% opposed.

 

Will Retail Recreational Cannabis Come to Richmond?

 

It is not known when or even if Richmond might be in the running for a recreational cannabis store.

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said the new Cannabis Control Commission is still getting its bearings.

“The new law has not yet fully taken effect, because it’s going to be under the control of the new Cannabis Control Commission, and that commission has not yet promulgated regulations to the best of my knowledge,” she said. “So, the only places that are selling retail cannabis now are the places that were already in existence before the state law was changed. … Right now, they’re not issuing any new licenses, because the commission is just getting started.”

 

Differing Opinions on Town Council

 

At the Sept. 19 Town Council meeting, council members discussed zoning ordinance amendments that would designate areas in town where recreational cannabis can be sold.

The council approved two new use codes, “cannabis business” and “cannabis retailer.”

Retail cannabis sales will be permitted in several zones: general business, light industrial, industrial, planned development, planned unit development-village center and, by special use permit, in the neighborhood business zone.

Voting in favor of the amendments were council President Mark Trimmer, and councilors Samantha Wilcox and Helen Sheehan. Council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Michael Colasante remained opposed to retail cannabis sales. Sheehan, who supports Colasante on most issues, voted in favor of the amendments, saying she felt she had to respect the will of the voters.

Nassaney said, in a recent interview, that his opposition was as strong as ever.

“It’s not about the tax dollars, it’s about the safety of our children of our children and our police officers and the public in general,” he said. “It’s a safety issue for me, and a moral standard. Our children are bombarded with far too many things. There’s no need for them to be subject to more drugs. We have enough drugs in our town, from opioids to alcohol. Why add another one? It’s not about tax dollars. It has never been about tax dollars for me.”

For Trimmer, however, it IS all about tax dollars – revenue that’s being generated in a neighboring town, and customers driving right through Richmond on their way to Exeter.

“In my personal opinion, and I’m only speaking for myself, I believe that retail marijuana is the same as retail alcohol, and if there was a retail marijuana facility right next to Wyoming Liquors, I wouldn’t complain,” he said. “I think that would be great. I’d probably shop there. I shop at Sweetspot in Exeter.”

Asked how he felt having to travel to Exeter to purchase cannabis, Trimmer said,

“It does drive me crazy and it drives me crazy that they’re eating our lunch and they didn’t even have to vote on it.”

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DEM Approves Solar Project Modifications

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 29th 2023

RICHMOND – As construction continues on a commercial-scale solar energy project at 172 Beaver River Road, the owner of the property, William Stamp Jr., and the developer, GD Beaver River I LLC, have received authorization to change several components of the approved site plan.

Nancy Freeman, an environmental scientist in the Freshwater Wetlands program of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, notified Stamp in a letter dated Nov. 10 that the proposed alterations to the plan, submitted to DEM on Sept. 15, had been approved.

Chuck Horbert, DEM’s Deputy Administrator, Groundwater and Wetlands Protection, responded to questions about the approved changes in the following emailed statement:

“- Access roads and equipment pads were reduced in footprint and relocated further to the west, farther away from the Beaver River and associated wetlands;

-The solar array footprint was reduced in size to allow for a larger buffer between the array and Beaver River Road to the west.

-A temporary irrigation well was included to facilitate quick vegetative stabilization of the site after construction;

-The portion of the interconnection that was originally to be located underground was revised to use poles and overhead wires.”

The most noteworthy of the changes is the use of overhead wires and poles instead of the underground utilities that were specified in the plan.

Freeman states in her letter to Stamp that given the “Wild and Scenic” designation of the Beaver River, the agency hopes that the developer will find a way to make the poles and wires less visible.

“The Beaver River is a designated Wild and Scenic River,” she writes. “Although the revised interconnection meets the Exempt Activities per the Rules for new utility work, any efforts or design configurations to avoid an overhead wire and poles in this location are encouraged [that would not result in further impacts to freshwater wetlands.]”

 

Some History

 

The solar array is being built on a 41-acre property, owned by William Stamp Jr., located in the Beaver River Valley, which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition, the Beaver River was one of the river segments designated Wild and Scenic under the federal Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic River Act.

Neither of those formal acknowledgments of the historic and natural qualities of the Beaver River Valley, and the river itself, could prevent the conversion of the field to a commercial solar array.

Nor did the Town of Richmond’s repeated denials of a special use permit, which was required because the parcel is in a residential zone where such a use is not permitted.

When both the Planning and Zoning Boards denied the application, the developer appealed to the Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board, which again denied the special use permit.

The developer filed another court appeal, challenging the reasons for the denial and this time, the court ruled in its favor. Justice Sarah Taft-Carter stated in her March 31 decision that board’s reasons for denying the application were “factually or legally unsupported,” and ordered the Zoning Board to issue the special use permit.

Once the permit was issued, construction at the site began immediately.

 

More Legal Decisions Pending

 

In a final attempt to stop the project, the town and abutting property owner John Peixinho, have each petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a “writ of certiorari,” an order to review the decision by the lower court.

Richmond Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she had not heard any news regarding the petition she submitted last June on behalf of the town.

“We’re still waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether to grant the petition,” she said.

Peixinho’s attorney, Thomas Dickinson, said he was not expecting any news until after the holidays.

“It’s still pending, and I wouldn’t expect to hear much for another month or so,” he said.

Such petitions, however, are granted only rarely, and as the project’s opponents await news from the Supreme Court, construction continues, the developer seemingly confident that the court will once again rule in his favor.

​Human Services to Offer Student Financial Aid Workshops

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 25th 2023

RICHMOND – The Richmond Department of Human Services will offer the first in a series of “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA, workshops on Nov. 28.

The workshops, which are free and open to residents of the three Chariho towns, will take place before the 2024-25 FAFSA application period opens in December to students who are planning to go to college or career training.x

Richmond Human Services Director Kate Schimmel explained that the workshops are funded by Gov. Dan McKee’s Learn365 program.

“We are very excited to be able to offer these workshops to our community through the Governor’s Learn365 grant,” Schimmel said. “Our hope is that they provide additional learning opportunities and resources locally for our community members. We encourage students, parents, and adult learners who are interested in post-secondary education, including career training, job-based learning and two and four - year degrees to participate. All are welcome join one or all the workshops offered.”

The United States Congress approved a new version of FAFSA, known as “Better FAFSA,” in 2020. Co-authored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the new student aid program streamlines the application process and makes it accessible to more students.

FAFSA is available for a wide range of post-secondary learning programs, from job and career training to two and four-year college degrees, but completing the FAFSA application is a requirement in order to qualify for federal student aid.

Education consultant Geoff Decker, author of the FAFSA guide “Understanding FAFSA & Financial Aid: Your Guide to Paying for College” will be facilitating the workshops.

"Filling out the FAFSA is often an overlooked piece of the college application puzzle,” Decker said. “Yet if you want money to level-up your skills and education beyond high school, the FAFSA is the gateway to investing in your future. These free public workshops raise awareness and share important information about financial aid. I'm honored to be able to work with local municipalities like Richmond to get the word out." 

The first workshop, on Nov. 28, will show participants how to create a student aid account and explain the differences between the types of student aid, such as grants, scholarships and loans.

The workshop will take place at 6 p.m. at the Arcadia branch of the Ocean Community YMCA. Space is limited, but participants can reserve a spot at  FASFA sign-up.

There will also be a virtual workshop on Dec. 5. The registration form for the virtual event can be completed at:  https://lu.ma/chariho-fafsa

The workshops are part of a regional initiative to connect with all three Chariho communities.

"These educational workshops are one of the ways that we bring community members together to discuss and learn about issues and topics that are relevant to them," Schimmel said. "We're thrilled to sponsor these important programs to expand learning opportunities for our community." 

Sheehan, Colasante Oppose Reynolds Reappointment

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 22nd 2023

RICHMOND – In a meeting that lasted only half an hour, Town Council members disagreed on the reappointment of Mark Reynolds to the Tax Assessment Board of Review. They also noted, but did not discuss, a report that the council had requested from the Economic Development Commission.

 

The Reynolds Reappointment

 

Before the council voted on the appointment of Mark Reynolds to the Tax Assessment Board of Review, which he chairs, councilor Helen Sheehan read a statement listing the reasons why she would not support the reappointment.

Sheehan said she would not vote to reappoint Reynolds, because “he does not have the best interests of the Richmond taxpayers in his heart.”

Sheehan provided several reasons for her opposition:

Firstly, an Open Meetings Act complaint, which the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office denied, against Sheehan, Michael Colasante and Mark Trimmer.

“It cost the taxpayers over $2,000 to defend us,” she said.

Second, Sheehan believes that Reynolds, who is running for a seat on the Town Council, was attempting to convince Richmond residents that Sheehan, Colasante and Trimmer are unethical.

Reynolds has also accused Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan of costing the taxpayers $20,000 in legal fees when the three councilors appointed Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee.

“We were depicted as doing something unlawful, however, our Town Solicitor had given us a legal, written opinion that if it came to being a court case, that the court would probably say that the Chariho Act would take precedence over the town charter,” Sheehan said. “The Supreme Court did not agree, so Jessica [Purcell] now has the School Committee position.”

Sheehan’s third item was the ill-fated “Tri Town Committee,” an effort spearheaded by Colasante to get the three Chariho towns together to oppose unfunded state government mandates. (Charlestown never joined the committee.)

“Mike and I wanted the three Chariho Town Councils to get together to write legislation to require the state to fund any future mandates. Mark Reynolds was part of the group of people who misrepresented our goal as something nefarious,” she said.

Sheehan also accused Reynolds of having a personal bias against The Preserve.

“The Preserve is one of the biggest taxpayers in town,” she said. “I have some concern that Marks’ decisions on the Tax Assessment Board of Review might be influenced by his emotional bias against The Preserve.”

Finally, Sheehan said that the Richmond Community Alliance, a newly-formed political action Committee chaired by Reynolds, “criticizes Republicans on the Town Council.”

“The message that comes through in their written material is that the ethical group are the members of the alliance, while the unethical people are mostly Mike Colasante and me,” she said.

Colasante supported Sheehan’s assertions, adding that members of town boards and commissions should be required to work with the council as a whole.

 

Reynolds Responds

 

Asked if he wished to comment on Sheehan’s statement, Reynolds had plenty to say.

“There’s a lot of discussion recently about people’s First Amendment rights, and their rights to criticize, particularly, the government,” he said. “It’s a very important aspect of the First Amendment, yet, I’m being criticized by Ms. Sheehan, who I have never criticized in any newsletter or on social media. I’m being criticized because I come here and I tell you what I think.”

Reynolds also noted that he had served on the Tax Assessment Board of Review for three years, before he ran for a council seat.

“… to say that this is some campaign strategy that I have somehow concocted is absurd,” he said.

Reynolds then explained that most of the tax appeals heard by the board were made by The Preserve, which has contested almost every tax assessment.

“We would make decisions based upon evidence, and the evidence supports the assessments that the town has made against The Preserve, and we have upheld them, so in that respect, we are saving the taxpayers money, because we’re making sure The Preserve is paying its fair share of taxes just like everybody else in this room does,” he said.

Reynolds also noted that The Preserve is costing the town legal fees because it is suing the town on its tax assessments.

With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox approved the reappointment.

 

The EDC

 

In a response to a request from the Town Council for a report on the activities of the Economic Development Commission, EDC President Bryan Lebeau sent a single-page letter, which was attached to the council agenda. Lebeau did not attend the council meeting.

The letter states that the commission put forward six action items last April, and had received feedback on only two of them.

“We trust that you will approach this matter with the seriousness it deserves,” the letter states. “Your proactive efforts in embracing economic development initiatives and responding to the Economic Development Commission’s recommendations will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our town’s growth and prosperity. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and for our council to put their money where their mouth is.”

Trimmer described the letter as “disappointing.”

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New Citizens’ Group Aims to Restore “Civility” to Richmond

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 18th 2023

RICHMOND –Town Council meetings have been lacking in civility in recent months, exposing deep divisions and animosity between the five council members and residents.

Concerned with the direction in which the town is heading, the founders of the new Richmond Community Alliance, or RCA, have pledged to restore decorum and respect to council meetings.

The non - partisan political action committee has a steering committee of six, which includes three unsuccessful Town Council candidates:

Attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Tax Assessment Board of Review, is the group’s President. Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick and former council Vice President Jim Palmisciano also serve on the committee.

The three remaining committee members are Joyce Flanagan, the group’s Treasurer, and members Jaime Marland and Jeff Noble.

Reynolds said RCA’s founders wanted the name of their group to reflect its objectives.

“We wanted something inclusive and community oriented,” he said. “Also recognizing the different viewpoints. We’re non-partisan, so we have Democrats, we have Republicans, we have Independents. The ‘Alliance’ part, it’s everybody working for the common good.”

After losing his bid for a council seat in 2022, Reynolds, an attorney, said he wanted to remain involved in town politics.

“I knew after the election that I wanted to stay involved and monitor and keep an eye on things and be a counterpoint and push back on things that I didn’t think were being done appropriately, and I think Jim Palmisciano and I both kind of talked about that right after the election,” he said.

The group formed during a time when council meetings were becoming increasingly contentious.

“There was a bit of an uproar and people started kind of meeting in their own little separate factions, I guess, and a group of us started talking and ultimately became this Richmond Community Alliance,” Reynolds said.

The “non-partisan” description of the RCA is more of a reflection of the diverse political affiliations of its members and does not prevent them from weighing in on town discussions.

“We’re not going to take a position on something simply because of the party of the person who’s acting,” Reynolds said. “So, we’re going to call out Democrats, we’re going to call out Republicans, we’re going to call out Independents. Basically, we’re going to call out behavior, so, in that regard we’re non-partisan, but we will be partisan with our opinions – sure.”

The RCA published its first newsletter in September and already has more than 125 subscribers.

Dan Madnick said he hoped the RCA would help restore unity in the town.

“How do we get a sense of community back in our town, where we can actually act like neighbors and help each other out and be able to have open dialogue and share our thoughts in a meeting where you won’t get ridiculed and you’ll actually help the town move forward,” he said.

Madnick, a supervising engineer at Electric Boat, and Planning Board member since 2019, believes that everyone has something to contribute and that disagreements are necessary to the process of moving forward.

“We need to have differing opinions, but it has to be done respectfully and we just haven’t had that for a long time,” he said. “I think, putting all those things together, it helps form the basis of the values of the RCA and what we’re trying to accomplish in the town.”

Madnick said residents appeared to be responding positively to the RCA.

“We’ve got some really good feedback,” he said. “People are really pleased to have people who are actually providing factual information in a positive light and also pointing out things where there may be mistakes happening, or something that we think is wrong.”

RCA Treasurer Joyce Flanagan said she had heard positive reactions from residents to the new group.

“From them, I hear very positive things,” she said. “They feel it’s been a good source of fact clarification and it’s been a good source in terms of being another strong voice in the community.”

Flanagan said she hoped the divisions in the town would begin to heal.

“I think it’s just so important that everyone listen to each other, learn from each other, plan for each other and take care of each other,” she said.

 

Jeff Noble, a commercial airline pilot, moved to Richmond with his family eight years ago, but only recently became engaged in town politics. Noble travels too much to serve on a town board or the Chariho School Committee, but he believes the RCA can be a positive influence in the town.

A strong supporter of the public school system, Noble said he realized the value of good public schools when he attended the Air Force Academy and saw the differences between students who had attended well-funded schools and those who had gone to struggling public schools. (All three Noble children attend Chariho schools.)

“You could see where people had great public school support, versus not so much,” he said. “Now, fast forward to after COVID, because things were moving along fairly well for Richmond. I didn’t have any problem with taxes or school or whatever. Along came a movement that says the spending on the schools is ridiculous, using national headlines to say that things in our public schools are going badly. And quite honestly, it’s just not true. … I thought the unreasonableness of the approach that everything is out of control is wrong, and the only way I could do that was to become more politically active.”

The RCA, Noble said, will back candidates who will be positive influences in the town.

“I think, for the group, a slate of reasonable candidates, candidates that are willing to follow the rules and not break norms and I believe that our candidates would be fiscally responsive, follow the comprehensive plan,” he said.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he welcomed the RCA.

“It would be great to have a group that cared about the town instead of politics and went about things in a tactful, diplomatic and neighborly way,” he said. “I appreciate thoughtful commentary over personal insults at any time.”

The only Democrat on the Town Council, Samantha Wilcox, said,

“I think it’s good that somebody is holding councilors accountable, and they’ve been very receptive to feedback that I’ve sent about their newsletter,” she said. “I thought it was really cool that they were kind about that feedback.”

The Richmond Community Alliance website, and its newsletters, are on the RCA website: https://richmondcommunityalliance.com/

More Good Financial News for Richmond

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 15th 2023

RICHMOND – After learning that Richmond’s property taxes are not, as one Town Council member has continued to claim, the second-highest in Rhode Island, the BRVCA looked at other indicators of the town’s fiscal health and how Richmond compares to other cities and towns.

The BRVCA explored several data sets in a report by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the nonprofit research organization frequently cited by councilor Michael Colasante.

We also looked at federal census data and spoke with the Executive Director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. The consensus is that Richmond is in sound fiscal health and is doing a good job of keeping expenses low.

 

On the Rocks?

 

At the July 21 special Town Council meeting to vote on hiring Town Planner Talia Jalette, Colasante argued that council members should be more involved in hiring town employees and criticized the manner in which the town was running.

“I just don’t know how the Town Hall’s been operating like this for the last 10 years,” he said. “That’s why I ran, to try and straighten some of these things out. Because again, like I said, the ship is going to rocks along the shore because we’re the Number Two taxed town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to the rocks and I want to see it stopped.”

At the Aug. 15 Town Council meeting, Finance Director Laura Kenyon attempted to counter Colasante’s assertion that Richmond’s tax burden is the state’s second-highest in Rhode Island.

Referring to the RIPEC report, Kenyon said,

“I took the RIPEC property taxation report and only for the residential rate, because we have one rate and a lot of cities and towns have three to five different tax rates,” she said.

“We were 11th in Fiscal year 2022, 7th in ’23 and now, we also called every city and town for their ’23 and ’24 and we’re 17th. We’re actually tied for 16th, but we only have one tax rate that ties with East Providence, which has three tax rates.”

Kenyon took the opportunity to caution councilors against citing figures without fully understanding their context.

 “…when you’re using metrics of states and cities and towns, you have to understand the calculation and the discrepancies that could happen,” she said. “You have to understand what other towns have, three- tiered or two-tier. You have to understand if they’ve been revaluated for tax levies. There are many things that go into the consideration, so as we state statistics, we should understand what we’re stating as well.”

 

The RIPEC Report

 

RIPEC Research Manager Justine Oliva talked about the sources of data and how the report is prepared.

“RIPEC produced a report on property tax using the most recent available data a few years ago,” Oliva said. “We put that out on January 25th, 2022. The most recent available property tax data that we had was in regard to tax year 2021 at that point, I believe. Since then, two separate tax rate changes have been applied, and so, you see changes in cities and towns not only in their tax rates but cities and towns have enacted other changes in regard to their property tax structure. They’re seeing revaluations, so in a lot of ways, the data in that report is old.”

Richmond did have a revaluation in 2023, which reduced the property tax rate substantially, from $20.58 to $14.76.

Colasante has described the property tax burden as a combination of several factors.

“The tax rate is just that, the rate at which we’re being taxed,” he told Kenyon at the Aug. 15 council meeting. “You’re correct when you said that we were 11th. The tax burden adds the evaluations to the equation, which makes Richmond the second-highest burdened tax town in the state.”

The data for RIPEC’s residential property tax burden chart do show Richmond as having the second-highest in the state. However, those calculations are based on a median home value of $319,000 in Fiscal Year 2022, which, Kenyon said, is higher than the median home value in Richmond.

“The chart refers to the tax burden on a home in Fiscal [Year] ’22 for an assessment of $319,000,” she said. “It’s one assessment times the tax rate. They’ve used that schedule as what they consider to be the median assessed value of a home. … I checked with the assessor, and…the median household was $287,000 in Richmond, and understanding what is in a report and what is being referred to, you have to look and understand our median household assessment wasn’t the $319,000.”

Oliva noted that RIPEC is planning to update the information in its report when the state releases its latest figures.

“We are talking about, practically, what are you, as a resident homeowner, actually paying, so that’s why we use this example where we pick the median price home from that period,” she said. “…We do plan to revisit this report this winter, when the new data is released,” she said. “The new data – the Division of Municipal Finance will be releasing the data for the current year soon.”

 

Administrative Expenses

 

The RIPEC report contains a chart, prepared in 2021, that ranks municipalities’ administration costs. Those costs include police, administration, public works and parks and recreation.

Richmond’s municipal per capita expenditures, not including education, were $792, the second-lowest in the state. Only Exeter had lower expenses.

BRVCA asked Ernie Almonte the former Auditor General for the State of Rhode Island, to comment on Richmond’s ranking in the report. Almonte currently serves as the Executive Director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

“If I was the leader of that community, I’d be proud that my expenditures were that low and near the bottom of costs of running an efficient community,” he said.

 

The Census

There is more good financial news for Richmond: The U.S. Census Bureau shows the median household income in Rhode Island, from 2017 to 2021, was $74,489. In Richmond, the median household income was $104,493, putting the town 10th from the top on a list ranking 39 communities in the state. In addition, the per capita income, $44,904, puts Richmond in 13th place on the list.

Richmond Tax Rate NOT the Second-Highest in R.I.

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 10th 2023

RICHMOND – In familiar refrain, Town Council member Michael Colasante continues to state that Richmond’s property tax rate is the second-highest in Rhode Island. But research conducted independently for this article (with current 2023 data from each city and town’s official website) shows that when compared to the taxes in other cities and towns, Richmond’s tax rate is, in fact, closer to the middle than to the top.

As recently as the Nov. 6 Town Council meeting, Colasante repeated his tax burden claim, objecting to the council’s rejection of his proposal to re-open bidding for the Town Hall emergency generator after the bidding had taken place and the winning company had been announced.

Colasante repeated his assertion twice.

“Unfortunately, we’re the second-highest burdened tax town in the state, and it’s always my idea to try and save the taxpayers money,” he said.

About four minutes later, still referring to the generator bid, he stated,

“That’s why we’re the second-highest property burden town in the state.”

Colasante appears to be basing his assertion on a 2022 study, using data from 2021, by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC). On page 33 of the study, there is a table showing the “tax burden for homeowners with $319,000 in assessed property value,” and Richmond, with a rate of $20.58, is indeed second on that list, with West Warwick at the top.

But that was two years ago, and the tax rate is lower now.

When The Rhode Island Department of Revenue did not provide an updated list of cities’ and towns’ property tax rates, BRVCA was left to do its own research, surveying every municipality in the state to determine their 2023 property tax rates. The result of that research is the table included in this story, and it shows that Richmond, with a tax rate of $14.76, is not even close to having the second-highest tax rate, coming in 16th on the list of 39.

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Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the repeated use of out-of-date figures was an attempt by the opposition to create a scenario that would anger taxpayers.

“I feel that the angry Republicans had tried to create a false narrative regarding Richmond taxes to keep people angry and unhappy with the town and its services, and I think it’s great that someone took the time to do the research to determine that it was a false narrative and hopefully, it puts the false narrative to rest,” he said.

Trimmer also noted that he felt that the taxes on his Richmond home are not excessive.

“The taxes on my home are very reasonable, I feel, much more reasonable than when I lived in East Greenwich or Warwick, and it’s a much better quality of life and to me, this is good news and just reinforces why I moved to Richmond,” he said.

Mark Reynolds, who chairs Richmond’s Board of Tax Assessment Review, said the newest figures showed Richmond’s property taxes are reasonable compared to those in other municipalities.

“We are not out of line with other cities and towns,” he said. “No one likes taxes. Everyone wants their taxes lower, but those statistics show that we are doing our best to keep the taxes reasonable for people.”

Council Disruptions Continue

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 8th 2023

RICHMOND – The acrimony continued at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting with four agenda items introduced by councilor Michael Colasante, as he had promised to do on the Oct. 25 edition of the “#InTheDugout” radio program.

Colasante, told program host Mike Stenhouse that he had filed complaints with the ACLU and the office of the Rhode Island Attorney General regarding his treatment at the Oct. 17 council meeting, during which council President Mark Trimmer would not let him finish a statement he was reading from the podium normally used during the public forum.

Contrary to his promises to “hit the reset button” and work with his fellow council members, Colasante told Stenhouse that he was already preparing for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Do you expect to do or say anything there in furtherance of this situation, Michael, or are you just going to wait for the ACLU?” Stenhouse asked.

Colasante replied,

“No, I’m going to put it on the agenda that I notified the ACLU and there’re going to be a few other things on the agenda too, concerning these issues.”

 

Colasante added four items to the council agenda:

The road work bond approved by voters in 2022,

The bid for a generator for the Town Hall,

Fees charged by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth for Open Meetings Act complaints made by council member Samantha Wilcox and attorney Mark Reynolds,

and

A discussion of the accounting of revenue from the Beaver River solar project.

 

The Roadwork Bond

 

This was not the first time Colasante had proposed that the amount of the road bond, for which voters approved up to $2.5 million, could be reduced if the town used state funding.

“We can use the windfall of the road grant, save the taxpayers money,” he said Tuesday. “We go out to bond for $2.1 million and use the road grants to fill the gap of the $2.5 million and that would be actually more in line with what the voters voted for.”

Colasante made a motion, seconded by councilor Helen Sheehan, that the town go out to bond for $2.1 million and use state grants for the remaining $400,000.

Karen Ellsworth asked,

“Isn‘t that what the Finance Director already said to try and do?”

Finance Director Laura Kenyon was not present at the meeting, and Ellsworth suggested the council wait for her to return before making a decision.

Colasante made a motion to put the item on the next meeting agenda, but it was decided that the council would wait for the next meeting where Kenyon was present.

The council approved the motion, with councilor Samantha Wilcox voting against it, because, she said, the matter had already been discussed.

 

The Generator

The town went out to bid for an emergency generator for the Town Hall and announced the winning bid, $99,234, on Oct. 3.

Colasante had previously mentioned that he had reached out to a company that had not bid on the contract but could do the job for $73,000.  Since the project is not an emergency, he urged the council to delay the work and consider the lower bid.

Trimmer pointed out that the bid from the firm Colasante had contacted did not include site work.

“You got a bid for a commodity, a generator,” he said. “The bid we got for the town, which was $98,000, was not only for the commodity, but for the extensive site work to run the conduit from the pad, through the pad, under the ground –

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney added,

“and re-wire the entire building.”

Colasante said he was trying to save the taxpayers money, but Nassaney warned that circumventing a legal bidding process would end up in a costly lawsuit.

“If we want to save our taxpayers any money, we don’t even entertain this, because the contractor that was awarded the bid would turn around in a heartbeat and sue the town for breach of contract,” he said.

 

Town Solicitor Fees

 

Colasante asked what Ellsworth had been paid for defending the town against complaints of Open Meetings Act violations filed by Samantha Wilcox and Mark Reynolds.

“They both were denied and there was no OMA violation, so I would like to know how much it cost the town,” Colasante said.Ellsworth replied that the same request had already been made by Raymond Pouliot, a Colasante ally.

“I think it was about $1,500 and the second one was $2,052,” she said.

Colasante reminded the council that Wilcox had wanted to know what attorney Joseph Larisa had been paid to defend the town and Clay Johnson before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a case that the town lost. Larisa was paid $22,242.

“Mr. President, the only reason why I brought this up was because councilor Wilcox wanted to know how much the fee was for attorney Joe Larisa, so, what’s good for you is not good for somebody else,” he said.

 

Beaver River Solar Revenue

 

Colasante’s fourth item pertained to the revenue from the Beaver River Solar project.

Since Finance Director Laura Kenyon was not at the meeting, Colasante made a motion, seconded by Sheehan, to postpone the discussion until she returned.

However, Wilcox said she had wanted to discuss it Tuesday, because of a quote from Colasante in the meeting packet, stating that Town Administrator Karen Pinch had said that the fee the developer had paid to the town in June had been “spent around town.”

Wilcox said,

“The quote was misquoted. What was said was, typically those revenues are accounted for in the budget process to be spent on whatever other town services.”</