Town Council Meeting Summary - February 2019

This month’s Council meeting provided an opportunity for Barrington to once again take a leadership role in Rhode Island by advancing our policies to mitigate our impact on the environment. We also reviewed annual reports from the town’s various Boards and Commissions and discussed other policy and programs to ensure the Town is serving our neighbors in the best way possible.

If I make reference to any letters, ordinances, or the like, links to each can be found in the official agenda, posted here, under “Council Agenda” for the February 4th meeting. (NB: this is not a substitute for the official minutes of the meeting, and includes my personal recollection, interpretation and opinion of events. Official meeting minutes will be formally approved/amended at the next Council meeting, on March 4, and posted online for public review.)

Town Manager Jim Cunha shared a few announcements to start things off: Today, Feb 5, is the Special Election to fill a vacant Council seat. If you’re reading this today, before 8:00 PM, and have not voted, please head to Barrington High School, which is the sole polling location today. Tomorrow, Feb 6, we are holding an open workshop to discuss Barrington’s recreation fields and the fees related to their use. If you are interested in learning more about what is being done to improve access and quality, or have related feedback or questions, please head to Town Hall for this 7:00 PM meeting. Next week, on Feb 12, we will swear in our new Chief of Police, Dino DeCrescenzo, in the Barrington High School auditorium, at 7:00 PM.

Related, the next item on the agenda was a resolution honoring the outgoing Chief of Police, John LaCross. Council President Mike Carroll read the resolution. The list of accomplishments for the department during Chief LaCross’s tenure, and the statistics on safety improvements during that period is remarkable.

Up next was the consent agenda. This section of the agenda is a series of standard items, such as department reports, committee resignations and re-appointments, minutes and permit approvals. All these items are approved with a single vote and no discussion. If any member of the Council or public wishes that items be removed from the Consent Agenda, they can ask for such, and the item can be discussed. The minutes from the Polystyrene Workshop were removed to amend them, clarifying that I’d asked if the Economic Development Committee could provide a first contact to a business reported as being in violation of the ban, rather than the Police Department. The minutes had reflected my request as being for the Conservation Commission. The minutes were amended and passed unanimously; as was the entirety of the consent agenda.

We then interviewed volunteer applicants for various Boards and Commissions, appointing a new Republican Alternate to the Board of Canvassers and hearing two applicants for the Parks and Recreation Commission. It was learned prior to the meeting that there are other interested parties who had known of the vacancies on that commission prior to the day of the meeting (it was posted where necessary, but not posted everywhere past opening had been posted), so the vote to fill those vacancies was postponed to the March 4th, meeting.

We then heard an audit presentation from the independent financial auditors tasked with reviewing Barrington’s finances. The audit is an objective review of our financial operations, including safeguards, reporting, debt management and the like. Regardless of anybody’s opinion on how we choose to spend our money at a town, which is policy, it is evident that the manner in which Barrington conducts its financial business is superior. Our finance department is a great asset to the town. Here is a quote from the report:

“The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to the Town of Barrington for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017. This was the twentieth consecutive year that the government has achieved this prestigious award.”

The next item was the monthly report from the Bristol County Water Authority. There will be a 4.5% rate increase, following the organization’s public meeting at which nobody commented for or against the increase.

No public comments were shared during the Public Comment portion of the meeting, for comments relating to anything not on the agenda.

We then approved the acceptance of the annual reports from Barrington’s various Boards and Commissions. I noted the Planning Board’s request for support taking minutes, which I presume is also needed for various administrative tasks. I’m still learning the breadth of work the volunteers on this board take on, and it’s substantial. I asked that we find a way to provide added resources and Town Manager Cunha shared that there is some internal restructuring happening that should provide that support. Vice President Weymouth expressed interest in learning more about the BAY Team’s request for additional office space to accommodate grant-funded staff members. I have not yet been able to meet with the BAY Team, but as the liaison, I offered to discuss the overall program and goals with them. Manager Cunha also shared that the office accommodation has already been made.

There was discussion to clarify an amendment to the October Council Meeting minutes. I abstained, having not taken part in the meeting.

Next, Town Planner Phil Hervey shared a presentation on Complete Streets. The concept is that street planning, design and construction take into account all users of a street, including pedestrians and those with disabilities, cyclists, and motorists. As I was vocal about during my campaign and continue to believe, we need to upgrade the access and safety for non-motorists on our streets. The recommendation with this presentation is that the Town evaluate the concept and determine if and how to implement a policy for future road work and construction, so that moving forward, all users of streets are better served. The request is being shared with the Zoning Board and Department of Public Works to provide a recommendation. I’m eager to hear their response and would like to work quickly to ensure that when the RIDOT next begins a project on one of the state roads in town, they do so in a way that serves the entire community.

The next item on the agenda was included at my request. I wanted to discuss ways in which our town can provide assistance to any residents who are employees of the Federal Government, in the event of another extended shutdown. As I see it, if the Federal Government isn’t able to continue operating as normal, it’s the least we can do as a local government to protect those workers who are our neighbors. I’m unsure how many residents in Barrington were impacted (I do not personally know any, that I’m aware of), but my first thought had been to provide a sort of “paycheck replacement” in the form of an interest-free loan. Our town solicitor informed me that such a policy would need to be approved at a Financial Town Meeting, but that we could enact a policy to waive interest and penalties for tax payments due to the town. It’s a start… I will keep exploring other opportunities, as well. But, hopefully, we do not have another extended shutdown.

We then* approved three bids for purchases for our public safety departments; a new ladder truck for the fire department (wow, is that a complex purchase!), a hybrid SUV police cruiser (sweet!), and a replacement speed display trailer (funded by an insurance payment for a damaged trailer that was struck and totaled by a motorist). Of note, and relating back to my comments on the financial audit; Barrington’s finances are run well enough that the purchase of a new ladder for more than $1MM a couple years ahead of schedule does not create a budget deficit nor need force us to issue a bond.

(*This section of the agenda was swapped with the following section on ordinances, so that the folks in attendance to give testimony would be able to leave earlier; I’ve kept my summary in order of the posted agenda, for those following along with it.)

Next were the ordinances:

We introduced an ordinance change regarding BYOB licensure. It will be open for public hearing and a vote at the March 4th meeting, along with a previously-introduced ordinance relating to Neighborhood Restaurants.

The first ordinance for public hearing and a vote related to public waters, primarily mooring regulations. I don’t know much about boating and moorings, but my neighbor is a lifelong Barrington resident, local business owner, and boater. I’d enlisted him to review the changes and discuss any comments he had from the position of somebody who uses the moorings. He expressed no concerns from that end. I know the Harbor Master and his team invested a lot of time and attention to this, and confirmed by my neighbor, put my faith in them. I, along with the other three councilors voted to pass the ordinance.

Next was an amendment to the new tax exemption policy that went into effect last year. Councilor Steve Boyajian explain the new policy inadvertently created a situation in which there were conflicting exemptions. This clarified it to ensure the greater of the two exemptions would be in effect for any residents who qualified for both. Also a 4-0 approval.

We then approved a change in Town Hall hours. As of March 1, Town Hall will open at 8:30 AM on all weekdays, with extended hours on Mondays, to 8:00 PM, and shortened hours on Fridays, closing at 12:00 PM. Tuesday through Thursday, Town Hall will close at the usual 4:30 PM. This change has a sunset clause to end on Aug 31, 2019, unless continued by the Council. If it proves to be a good change for Barrington residents and does not create unwarranted challenges, we would seek to make this standard policy. This passed unanimously.

Next up, we protected the planet for future generations by taking a leadership role as Rhode Island’s first municipality to enact a policy banning the use of styrofoam and other non-recyclable plastics in food service, and for the retail sale of food service items (plates, utensils, etc.) and packing materials (“packing peanuts” and styrofoam casing). We held a public workshop two weeks ago to learn from businesses and residents their thoughts about this ordinance and how we can best execute the policy. There was no public opposition to the ordinance, and many people testified in favor of it. Following the workshop, I heard from multiple residents that there was concern this ban might negatively impact people with disabilities. My initial thought was the ordinance already allows for the Town Manager to provide exemptions, and this would suffice. However, given the expressed concern and wanting to ensure our policies do not have an adverse impact on people with disabilities, I shared with our town clerk and solicitor in advance of the meeting a proposed amendment that would exempt items needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Vice President Weymouth, who has been a champion for this ordinance, also shared the concern, and my amendment was proposed and accepted. We voted unanimously to pass the ordinance. Applause followed, with congratulations to Vice President Weymouth and the Conservation Commission for helping Barrington lead the way!

That concluded the business of the meeting. Please remember tomorrow (Feb 6) night’s Fields Workshop, 7:00 PM at Town Hall. Our next council meeting is Monday, March 4, at 7:00 PM. If you have concerns or feedback on anything in this recap, or other issues in town, please comment here, or send me an email.