RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING - UPDATE for JUNE 7, 2022
Council Refers COVID Rescue Fund Decisions to Administrators
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 7th 2022
RICHMOND – With Town Council President Nell Carpenter and councilor Lauren Cacciola absent, three council members agreed at the June 7 meeting to refer decisions on the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds to Town Administrator Karen Pinch, Finance Director Laura Kenyon, and members of the Finance Board.
The town is receiving $2.3 million in ARPA funds, of which $249,050 has been allocated. However, council Vice President James Palmisciano has raised questions regarding the $75,000 the town has set aside for a director of the town’s proposed community center. While the position was recommended by the Wellness Committee, Palmisciano has suggested that the funds might be better spent on reinforcing school security measures, including new purchasing equipment for the police.
“We have three council members here,” he said. “On the 21st, [the next council meeting] I expect we will have five. What I would love to have to bring this to a close is to ask the administration to take all the recommendations that we have, come back on the 21st with your recommendations for council on what you see, and of course, at the end of the day, council will have the authorization to approve, or deny or discuss, but I think it would allow us to bring this to a close.”
Council member Richard Nassaney asked whether the $75,000 for the Community Center Director could be approved.
“Do you want to get that through, so they can get going on that program, if you will, so that there’s some wheels underneath it? Because it’s something we’ve already put into the budget,” he asked.
Kenyon said she had understood that the council had already approved the funding for the position.
“Honestly, I thought they had more or less approved the position when the Wellness Committee presented, so that’s the only pending item,” she said.
Palmisciano said he still had questions about how the position would be funded after the three years of ARPA funds end.
“I do have the job description, as it is described in the Wellness [Committee] but I would like to get more information on how that cost transfers after ARPA runs out, from a capital and operating expense perspective, on how we do that, whether it be a permanent position, whether it’s a contract position,” he said. “Those are some of the things I still need answers to, so I would rather wait until I have that opportunity.”
Kenyon said the position could be subject to council approval of renewal after the three-year ARPA funding period.
The council agreed to continue the discussion to the July 12 meeting, when administrators will make recommendations for ARPA funding allocations.
In other business, the consideration of proposed amendments to the Home Rule Charter was also constrained by the absences of the two council members.
The Charter Review Commission has made recommendations for amendments to the charter, and Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth made some changes to that draft.
Palmisciano wanted to wait for all five council members to approve the changes, but Nassaney said he wanted to get started.
“We can’t wait,” he said. “It’s their decision to not be here. We have business for the town that needs to be done. Their decision is theirs. They live with it. We’re here. We’re working, so be it. Let’s go to work.”
Among the proposed changes is the introduction of an all-day budget referendum that would replace the Financial Town Meeting. In addition, the position of Town Administrator would be changed to Town Manager, and all town employees would receive annual performance reviews.
Nassaney made a motion to authorize the town to advertise a public hearing, which will take place at the June 21 council meeting.
Town Clerk Erin Liesse told the council that recent redistricting has added more voters to the town’s list, necessitating the creation of a third polling district.
The town currently has two polling locations, one at Richmond Elementary School and another at Chariho Middle School.
“We are 200 voters over the allowed for two precincts,” she said. “The Rhode Island City Clerks had put in legislation increasing the precinct cap to 3,500, so unfortunately, it did not move and we had to open a third polling location.”
Liesse said there will now be three polling places, the Town Hall, Richmond Elementary School and Chariho Middle School.
“It increases the amount of poll workers we’re going to need, so this is another plug, if you are available to work on the primary or the general election, take a look online or stop in my office,” she said.
Residents affected by the change will receive notifications in the mail. Liesse encouraged residents to visit the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s website to check their voter status and polling location.
The council also considered the recent passage of the Cannabis Act, which legalizes recreational marijuana sales in Rhode Island. Richmond has opposed recreational marijuana sales, and Ellsworth told the council that towns will be able to opt out.
“It has an opt-out provision for cities and towns that do not want to permit retail sales of non-medical marijuana in their community,” she said. “To take advantage of that opt-out, you have to enact a resolution putting a referendum question on the November 8 ballot asking the residents of your community whether they would like to opt out of this.”
Ellsworth warned the council that if residents do not vote against the sale of recreational marijuana in a referendum, the state would have the authority to issue sales licenses in the town. However, the town could still exclude recreational sales by amending its zoning ordinance.
“It does not prevent you from enacting zoning ordinances and other ordinances that would be reasonable…for instance, the location where sales could take place, smoking in public places, that kind of stuff. You could still do that,” she said.
Ellsworth also noted that the town would have the right to approve ordinance amendments regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch announced that the dog park will receive a “small recreation grant” from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for $71,580, most of which will be used to build a fence around the park. The new dog park will be located near the base of the town’s water tower, at the entrance to the Heritage Trail.
“The dog park has been trying very hard to raise those funds for years and years and years, so they’re very happy about this,” she said.
Pinch also described two major procurement projects, one involving the selection of a new information technology vendor and a second project, the selection of a new water operator. Contracts with both of the town’s current providers will expire soon. The town has issued a request for proposals for an IT provider and will soon issue an RFP for the water operator.
The council agreed on the dates of the two council meetings this summer. There will be one meeting each month, the first on July 12 and the second on August 16.
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