JUNE 15, 2021
At a WORK SESSION of the Town Council of the Town of South Kingstown, County of Washington, in the State of Rhode Island held via video- and tele-conference, in and for said Town on the 15th day of June 2021 at 6:30 PM.
PRESENT: TOWN COUNCIL
Abel G. Collins, President
Rory H. McEntee, Vice President
Deborah D. Bergner
Deborah J. Kelso
Jessica L. Rose
Also present: Theresa L. Murphy, Interim Town Manager; Jon Schock, Director of Public Services; Joel Ewing-Chow, Chief of Police; James Rabbitt, Director of Planning; Laurel Clark, Director of Library Services; Craig Stanley, Emergency Medical Services Chief; Lori Fox, IT Director; Lance Whaley, Communications Superintendent; and Colleen Camp, Executive Assistant.
Theresa Murphy, Interim Town Manager reviews the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds established by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 through which the Town of South Kingstown will be eligible to receive funding to respond to the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-entitlement aid is anticipated in the amount of $3 million, and the Town’s share of County-based aid is expected in the amount of $5.95 million for a total allocation of approximately $9 million.
Eligible uses for the funding include response to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality; response to workers performing essential work during the health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers; the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the pandemic; and to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. The federal funds cannot be used to offset tax revenues or to fund pensions.
Town staff have developed recommendations for projects that would meet eligibility criteria under the Act’s guidelines, along with their associated costs. The proposed projects were then evaluated and ranked #1 to #4 by priority. Projects ranked #1 and #2 were re-evaluated, and the top ranked projects are included in the final recommended list. Categories include village revitalization, including municipal investment and programs in the amount of $5 million and matching grants for private sector investment and programs in the amount of $2.4 million; low and moderate income housing in the amount of $300,000 and elderly housing in the amount of $100,000; and municipal investment in government services in the amount of $955,000 and municipal investment to non-profits in the amount of $300,000. Projects assigned to Plan B include water treatment and broadband.
Discussion ensues relative to holding a Public Hearing at the July 12, 2021 Town Council meeting to consider and adopt the Town’s plan.
Jamie Rabbitt, Director of Planning discusses village revitalization, including façade improvements, wayfinding or branding signage, and complete streets projects. The intent is to encourage economic development in the village centers. Public sector investments or programs are proposed at $5 million, and private sector or matching funds are proposed at $2.4 million, for a sub-total in that category of $7.4 million.
The Interim Town Manager notes the impact of COVID on our local economy and businesses. Investments are proposed to revive those businesses by attracting visitors and customers.
To respond to negative impacts to low and moderate income households, it is proposed to invest $300,000 into a housing fund to provide matching grants of up to $20,000 per unit for creation of 15 new affordable housing units in a walkable setting. It is also proposed to make $100,000 available in grants for elderly home repair.
To address impacts to delivery of government services and non-profits impacted by COVID-19, projects related to providing municipal services are proposed in the amount of $955,000, and $300,000 is proposed to support non-profit social services and child care services.
Other projects suggested for consideration in Plan B include funding for a new water treatment plant in the amount of $5 million, installation of broadband along Main Street in downtown Wakefield, and the broadband radio project.
Mr. Rabbitt discusses the revitalization projects, noting that improvements to Main Street would be an investment shared by the municipality and businesses. Some of the proposed projects are priorities listed in the Town Council’s Goals and Objectives to reinvigorate the downtown area.
Council President Collins notes that the Economic Development Committee is focusing on the Saugatucket River area and the Town’s tri-centennial celebration, and suggests installation of a sculpture.
Mr. Rabbitt notes that the focus of the ARP funding is that items to be addressed need to be caused or exacerbated by COVID.
Theresa Murphy, Interim Town Manager discusses the impact that COVID had on park areas, noting that they were over-utilized for outdoor activities. Old Mountain Field, a gateway feature to downtown Wakefield, saw extensive public use but groups were not able to participate in sports. Capital funding for improvements is limited to replacement of bathrooms and the concession building. The park features walkability to lower income and densely populated areas of Town. It is proposed to redesign the parking area for safety and additional spaces. It is proposed to hire a specialist for camp programming to provide mental health supports for young people.
Craig Stanley, EMS Chief discusses the paramedicine program and its mission to bridge the gap of health care and mental health needs in the community.
Discussion ensues relative to how the revitalization efforts could be distributed among the village areas, and social services for children.
Discussion ensues relative to the funding application process. The Town has submitted an application to the State Office of Pandemic Recovery for $1.5 million which is now being reviewed. Once approved, the State will release those non-entitlement funds, and the Town will assign an appropriation to chosen projects. The Town will be responsible for reporting to the State on the expenses.
Discussion ensues relative to potentially using ARP funds to accelerate Capital Projects, and perhaps tie in to the State Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) such as Route 138 reconstruction from Route 108 to the Amtrak bridge, Route 108 sidewalk installation, and safety improvements at the intersection of Broad Rock Road and Stony Fort Road with Route 138. It is noted that the funds need to be spent or allocated within 3 years.
Discussion ensues relative to encouraging community participation in this process and soliciting comments, perhaps with a suggestion box on the Town’s website and a webpage to provide information. Public input will also be welcomed during the Public Hearing.
Discussion ensues relative to the timeframe to spend any funds received. A final report is due by 2026. Projects must meet the federal criteria in order to be eligible for funding. The Town must submit an annual report of funds spent to the State.
Discussion ensues relative to $300,000 in matching funds proposed for affordable housing. The goal is to target 15 properties to become either deed restricted or to enter the market as affordable housing. Funding could be provided as forgivable loans, recorded as liens against the property for projects that meet established criteria.
Discussion ensues relative to providing $100,000 in grants for elderly home repairs that will be managed through non-profit funding. Requests for other types of grants by human service agencies will be discussed at the next Work Session.
Discussion ensues relative to community outreach programs. Joel Ewing-Chow, Police Chief discusses public safety and mental health community outreach programs for that population, working in cooperation with social service agencies. Craig Stanley, EMS Chief reviews his department’s procedures that include wellness checks.
Chief Ewing-Chow notes that funding for drones is requested to assist with search and rescue operations.
Ms. Murphy discusses a youth program for those who have aged out of seasonal programs, similar to counselor-in-training programs, including training for job skills within parks and recreation, and partnering with the Tri-Town Community Action Agency. The purpose would be to combat the effects of COVID isolation on teenagers.
Jon Schock, Director of Public Services discusses the water treatment project included in Plan B. Construction of a water filtration plant for the South Shore and Middlebridge water system could provide an additional 1 million gallons per day, in lieu of buying water from Suez. Mr. Schock briefly discusses annual water restrictions during the summer months, a report on this will be provided to the Town Council.
Ms. Murphy reviews the list of Municipal Investments, including a Natural Resource Officer, a Bookmobile for the Library, funding to non-profits for child care and social service grants for low and moderate income families.
Chief Ewing-Chow discusses the proposed $500,000 for public safety and mental health and the EMS services needed for that population.
Ms. Murphy notes funding is proposed for a grant writer and contract manager for a two-year period.
Lori-Ann Fox, IT Director reviews projects to address municipal organizational needs, including upgrade of Office 365 software to support remote work capability, and audio/visual improvements to the Town Council Chambers and 7 additional conference rooms in other Town buildings to enable hybrid meetings.
Discussion ensues relative to broadband improvements included in Plan B being eligible under the ARPA guidelines. Ms. Fox notes the State’s Take It Outside Initiatives: the installation of broadband to cover wifi from Stedman’s bike shop to Smithco Oil would help to revitalize businesses in the downtown Wakefield area.
Lance Whaley, Communications Superintendent notes that the broadband radio project would extend the Town’s fiber ring, and would eliminate leasing from Verizon. Ms. Fox notes that this would also extend the Town’s private fiber lines to the Town’s water and wastewater plants.
Discussion ensues, and it is noted that funding specifically for infrastructure projects may be provided by the Federal Government with another round of stimulus funding.
Human Service and Outside Agencies will be invited to submit applications for consideration at the next Work Session on June 29th. The meeting will also be advertised in the newspaper and on the Town website.
Adjourn at 8:58 PM.
Susan M. Flynn, CMC