Council Briefed on Town Budget, Wellness Committee Progress
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND — Town Council members discussed several fiscal matters at the April 19 meeting, including the latest iteration of the municipal budget and several grant opportunities. The council also heard a report on the progress of the Wellness Committee and its recommendations. Council President Nell Carpenter and councilor Lauren Cacciola did not attend the meeting.
The proposed 2022-23 municipal budget was presented by Finance Director Laura Kenyon during a public hearing. The proposed budget is $7.4 million, an increase of 3.37%, or $240,650. The town’s share of the Chariho Schools budget, which was rejected by voters but will be amended and voted on again on May 5, will be $20.9 million. The new property tax rate has not been established, however tax revenue for the current year is up by 1.06%. State aid for education is up by $42,590 and revenue from federal American Rescue Plan funds will total approximately $2.3 million. The unassigned fund balance, or surplus, will be $14.78%. While this means the fund balance will be lower than the recommended 15%, $60,000 of the surplus was used to offset a projected tax increase, which, Kenyon explained, was lower than the amount allocated from the fund balance in the current and previous years. “We’re only using $60,000 to offset the tax increase,” she said. “This year, it’s $150,000. We’re slowly getting back to where we’ll be able to support the budget without the use of our unassigned fund balance.”
Kenyon also explained the allocation of the town’s anticipated funds from the American Rescue Plan. $174,050 from the federal program has been moved from the town’s operating budget for possible use in capital projects. Those include $64,000 for upgraded police radios, computer software, at $24,000, new equipment for the Beaver River Playground, $20,000, a new compactor and dumpster for the transfer station, $45,000, a generator for the Town Hall, $30,000, and $18,000 for the new dog park. “I will be updating this worksheet to the council and the public, probably on a monthly basis with my monthly reports, but again, the important item here is the $174,000 that we had moved from the department requests to American Rescue [Plan],” Kenyon said. Economic Development Commission member William McIntosh received council approval for additional funds for an upgrade of the commission’s web page. The council voted to allocate $2,000 to the commission, in addition to the $1,500 it is budgeted to receive. Residents will vote on the proposed spending plan at the Financial Town Meeting on June 13. Details of the budget are available on the town’s website.
Roads and Zoning
During the public hearing, the council approved a $2.5 million bond for road work. Members also approved amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance which will eliminate the “Planned Unit Development” zoning district, which is no longer used.
In addition, the council voted to amend another chapter of the zoning ordinance. Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained, “What you have before you tonight is a request to adopt the new chapter of the zoning ordinance called ‘Chapter 18. 61’ entitled ‘zoning map amendments and limitations.’ …What this ordinance does is, it catalogs the lists of conditions that were included with some re-zoning changes so that in the future, if I’m not in that seat anymore or [Town Solicitor] Karen Ellsworth has since left or anyone that was intimately involved in that zoning map change, will have a point of reference to allow that information to be picked up.”
Town Administrator Karen Pinch described several funding opportunities, the first of which was at the invitation of Sen. Jack Reed’s office. Pinch said that she had submitted a request for $2 million for the town’s long-awaited community center.
The town was also contacted by Congressman James Langevin’s office, which has already made a $578,000 grant to the town for a community recreation area on a vacant parcel across the road from the town hall. Pinch told the council that the latest application was for an integrated security camera system. “We do have security cameras on this building, we have security cameras at the police station, we have cameras at the DPW - none of them talk to one another,” she said. “The police can’t monitor all of them and there are a couple of other locations where we would also like to have cameras.” Pinch said she had contacted a local company and had received a quote of $208,000.
The second funding request submitted to Langevin’s office is for a new communications tower. The Rhode Island Emergency Management agency will pay for the communications equipment on the tower, and the town will pay for the tower itself. “EMA helped us with a quote for a tower and that is for $490,000,” Pinch said. “…Actually, EMA would need to be the recipient of the grant, so even though we wrote it, EMA has agreed to be the recipient.” The town, through its information technology provider, also applied for, and has received, a cyber security grant for $8,334 from the office of the Rhode Island Secretary of State. “It’s for firewalls and other software,” Pinch said. The council approved all four grant applications.
The town’s Wellness Committee, established in Oct. 2021, presented its findings and recommendations. Committee Chair Pamela Rohland told the council that from December to March, the committee had met twice per month, with smaller working groups meeting more frequently, to assess the need for health services in the town, and recommend a facility where services could be provided. “We came up with two primary issues, Rohland said. “One was behavioral health, which generally includes mental health issues and substance abuse issues and then also, the other primary issue was the seniors and healthy aging.” The two issues overlap, Rohland explained, since 25% of the town’s seniors are experiencing mental health issues. “A lot of that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and it’s also been exacerbated by pretty much a lack of public transportation in our town,” she said. In addition to providing better physical facilities for residents, Rohland told the council that it would be important to have an administrator to pull the services together. “We just need somebody that knows about human resources, because people in our town really are suffering, and are in great need, and so all of these services that don’t exist but could exist, the foundation is that human resources director,” she said.
Committee Clerk Dan Fitzgerald said the group had consulted other towns and had learned that a human services director would be essential. “What we’ve seen in practice here, in other communities in our state, was to have that central hub to bring services here,” he said. “That, in our case, could the human services director…the thought that this person would be brought on to really start building this out. Using the data and recommendations from the committee’s report, the new human services director would recommend ways in which the American Rescue Plan funds could be used. The committee recommended that the town begin work on the new community center building project. There was also a renewed discussion of a possible partnership with the Ocean Community YMCA, which is currently searching for a new building. Mark Reynolds, who serves on the organization’s Board of Directors, suggested a collaboration with the town. “One of our more loyal constituencies is our senior members, our active older adults,” he said. “So, we are serving that segment of the population and it seems like a waste to have two organizations looking to build a multimillion dollar facility and so, I would just put out there that if there is any opportunity for some collaboration, we would certainly welcome that.”
The Arcadia branch of the YMCA has also requested $40,000 from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund of the ARPA funds the town is expected to receive, for upgrades to the YMCA’s community center. Council Vice President James Palmisciano said the request had already been added to the budget, and is on the list of funding possibilities. “It would be going to invest in this local YMCA,” he said. “A community center, technology updates and so on. That’s what it would be used for.”
Beaver River Park
Conservation Commission Chair James Turek asked for council approval to submit a grant proposal to the Wild and Scenic Stewardship Council for $4,000 for the first phase of the rehabilitation of the Beaver River Park grassland as well as the removal of invasive plants. (The Beaver River is part of the Wild and Scenic river system, designated in 2019 by the National Park Service.) “What we want to try to do is restore the grassland and the hiking trails by removing the invasive shrub that’s taken over much of the site,” he said. The funds will be used to hire a consultant who specializes in the management of invasive plants. “The longer term goal is to try to capture more funds, if we can figure out where those are going to come from, to basically try to eliminate the invasive shrub. It’s Autumn Olive, it’s taken over a good portion of the site,” he said. Turek said he had talked with Pinch and Public Works Director Scott Barber about ways the town could provide the required funding match, which would involve work by DPW staff.
Beaver River Valley Community Association
P.O. Box 10, Shannock, RI 02875