Council Meeting Summary - October 2019

Executive Summary:

  • The Bristol County Water Authority pipeline is being repaired

  • A program that will reduce and make more consistent the electric bills for all Barrington National Grid customers

  • Establishment of a Barrington Heritage Hall of Fame

  • The Council and Town Manager are planning a strategic meeting to do some “big picture” planning for the coming year

  • We are putting the brakes on regulating short-term rentals

Click here for my usual “disclaimer” relating to the purpose and potential for bias of my meeting recaps

And here is the detailed October meeting’s agenda.

Full Recap

Following the pledge of allegiance, led by President Carroll, Town Manager Jim Cunha shared some announcements:

  • Monday, October 14th - Columbus Day, Town Hall, Barrington Public Library and DPW will be closed

  • Monday, October 14th – Barrington Day of Caring, 11:00am – 4:00pm, assemble at Town Hall

  • Saturday, October 19th – Community Shred, 9-11:00am, Department of Public Works

  • Saturday, October 26th – Drug Take Back at the Public Safety Building 10:00am – 2:00pm

  • Early November – Friends of the Library Annual Book Sale

    • Saturday, 11/2: 9:00am – 5:00pm

    • Sunday, 11/3: 1:00am – 5:00pm

    • Monday, 11/4: 9:00am – 3:00pm

 

From the Consent Agenda section, I pulled the Minutes from our prior meeting, the Finance Report and the Planning Report. Councilor Hearn pulled the DPW report. I don’t recall any other items being pulled, and we voted unanimously to accept/approve all remaining items.

I pulled the Minutes to clarify two areas in which I saw inconsistency between what I had said and what was recorded. The simpler of the two was a section regarding Allin’s Cove Cemetery, which had been pulled by President Carroll so that Councilor Boyajian could recuse himself. I also requested to pull it -- which wasn’t reflected in the minutes -- in order to ask if any representatives from the Allin’s family were in attendance wanting to be heard on the issue (beginning construction on the adjoining property). That was added to the minutes. 

The other section of the minutes I wanted changed relates to our discussion during the September meeting of the monthly department reports. The minutes reflected, in my opinion, that my primary interest was in setting the order and layout of the reports, when in actuality, my primary interest was in adding more comparative data to the reports, so that during the limited time Councilors have to prepare for each meeting, we’re able to more readily see trends in both large and small areas. Following some added discussion about this, we decided to table a vote on the minutes until the next meeting. This will give us each a chance to watch the video of the September meeting, and come to consensus on how that discussion should be reflected in the Minutes.

I pulled the Finance Report because I wanted to understand why it appeared to me that collections of tax revenue were up approximately $1.8MM over the same period from last year, but the overall budget had a $400K deficit. The Finance Director was not in attendance, but the Town Manager began to explain that it is related to the timing of collections, and that the 12-month average didn’t show the same fluctuation. Still unsure why revenue seemed up so much, but the net after expenses was negative, I pushed a bit more. At that time, fortunately, Councilor Boyajian believed (correctly) my interpretation of the line “Prior Year Collections” which falls immediately after “Current Year Collections” was incorrect. It does not represent collections during the same periods each of the two years, but collections this year for “current year” taxes and collections this year for “prior year” taxes. That resolved my confusion and removed my concern. (It also highlights why having Period-Over-Period and variance sections in the charts would be helpful.)

I pulled the Planning Report to express gratitude to the Town Planner and Building Official for the information presented in their report. It includes qualitative information about the activities of their department, underscoring the highlights, and also presents quantitative information with comparable period data and variances. Over time, reports like this will make it easy to see where changes are happening, enabling the Town to best respond to emerging needs and plan for future concerns.

Councilor Hearn pulled the DPW Report to discuss her concerns relating the future costs of waste removal for town. She noted the increased tonnage costs, and stated that she knows we have a good recycling rate, but that more needs to be done because these costs will only go up. Public Works Director Alan Corvi spoke to reiterate how well our town does compared to other municipalities, and took it further to share that he regularly hears from out-of-state colleagues that we “have it easy” with our costs and overall waste management. The relative status is nice, but I think we all agree with Councilor Hearn in wanting to ensure that we control costs and limit our contribution to reaching the capacity of RI’s last landfill.

President Carroll restated that Vice President Weymouth and I are working on composting initiatives, and suggested that we add waste management to the agenda for the November meeting so we can review it in more depth.

Following the Consent Agenda, we heard our monthly update from the Barrington Director for the BWCA, Allan Klepper. He shared the status of the work being done to repair the pipeline, which should be completed over the next several weeks.

Next, we appointed Elizabeth Buckley to the Discover Newport board. At the prior month’s meeting, she applied, as did another woman. Both applicants were strong candidates for the appointment, and we sought to add them both. The head of Discover Newport informed the Town Manager that Barrington could only appoint one representative. Vice President Weymouth shared that Ms Buckley had reached out to her to discuss the appointment, and for VP Weymouth, that was the differentiator between two candidates who each merited appointments. She made a motion, which I seconded, for the same reason. Hopefully, the other applicant will be interested in serving on another one of our vacant seats on a town board or commission.

We then heard public comment, and two people spoke. The first was a woman who lives along a narrow road by the new Middle School. She expressed significant frustration that she and her neighbors are experiencing during school dropoff times. Driveways have been blocked directly, and even when residents are able to leave their driveway, because of the size of the road, it presents a safety concern. That frustration is paired with fear that once the fields are replaced, cars will regularly be obstructing their driveways. As it turns out, the Police Chief and Town Manager had already looked at that road and discussed possible solutions, as they’d noticed the same problems. I am not yet sure what the resolution will be, but the woman who spoke appreciated knowing it was being addressed.

Adding to her comment, she noted that she wasn’t sure what the proper method was for seeking relief for this type of concern. If ever you have a concern about anything relating to town, please reach out to me (or any Council member). It will often be the case that we cannot provide the answers/solutions directly, but we are all in this role to help our community. We’ll help you get to the right person.

The other person who spoke had been to the prior meeting as well, to speak on the same topic; the new approach to property assessments (properties purchased in 2018 were assessed as of 12/31/2018 at the purchase price, adjusted from the prior town-wide valuation assessments). I’ve met with this resident multiple times, and we always have pleasant and interesting discussions. We agree on many things, including sharing the same opinion on this new assessment policy. Unfortunately, I don’t believe his public comment helped his interests, as it positions him as an adversary of the Council, though I believe he wants to be a partner with us.

As a side note, if you or somebody you know purchased a home during 2018 and believe the assessment doesn’t reflect the value at which the property owner’s share of taxes should be determined, here is a link to the appeals form. Assessments can be appealed through December 2, 2019.

We then heard a presentation on Municipal Energy Aggregation, delivered by Good Energy. New state regulations allow for municipalities to “bundle” all electric utility users into a single purchaser and go out to bid to private energy suppliers. We learned what the process would be like to do so. In short, if we proceed (the process to get there takes about a year) with the change, people would not experience any difference, but would have lower rates. Everybody would still receive their bill from National Grid, and the payment would still be made to them. This includes people with solar panels and contracts to sell back energy, or for net metering. Everybody will have the opportunity to opt out, and remain purchasing the same electricity they have been, and people will also likely be able to opt in to an electric provider that guarantees a certain percentage of electricity is coming from renewable sources.

Next, we publicly voted to ratify the municipal union contracts. These had all been approved unanimously a couple months ago, in Executive Session. Though they can be discussed and voted on in that way, our Solicitor advised a public vote on the agenda to openly ratify them.

The next item on the agenda was to discuss a strategic off-site meeting. The idea was proposed by the Town Manager, so that the five members of the Council and he could collectively discuss larger-picture ideas and areas on which to focus for the remaining 13 months during which we all will serve together. I like the idea and that feeling was shared by all other Councilors. Councilor Hearn and I both expressed a desire that the location be within the town. As long as the meeting is posted appropriately and open to the public, we are in compliance with the Open Meetings Act, but I feel strongly (and I believe this is where Councilor Hearn’s desire comes from) that our meeting should take place in Barrington, to avoid the perception of trying to avoid or limit public view. Vice President Weymouth believes that by leaving town and changing our setting, it helps foster more of a “retreat” atmosphere, allowing for freer discussion of ideas. I understand that view, but feel it is outweighed by the need to conduct town’s business in view of town. President Carroll and Councilor Boyajian did not express an opinion on either location. 

We all agreed on some items proposed on the potential off-site agenda, and also shared other ideas. I’d like our focus to be on budget prioritization. I’d like the opportunity to discuss in advance of the preparation of next year’s budget the areas in which I’d like to see the town investing more or less resources. Over the coming weeks, we’ll set that agenda and a final location will be determined.

The Barrington Heritage Hall of Fame was the next agenda item. This was also something proposed by the Town Manager on which all Councilors seemed to be in agreement as a nice thing for the town. The idea is that nominations would be collected annually to honor people for their contributions to Barrington. The discussion we had focused around more of the mechanics. One issue that could have been fraught, but luckily we all readily saw the benefit was that the committee membership would be selected by the Town Manager. As I had noted at a prior meeting, committees established by the Council are all subject to the Open Meetings Act. It would be quite awkward to openly discuss the merits of each of the nominees compared to others. By having the committee set up by the Town Manager, the meetings would be afforded an appropriate level of discretion.

We discussed having the final approval of the slate of inductees coming to the Council for formal approval. There was also discussion of the number of inductees each year, the method of determining merits and who is eligible, and whether the members of the selection committee could repeat their terms. The details will be left to the Town Manager and selection committee to make a final recommendation.

Next item: Former Council member and current Committee on Appropriations Chair, Steve Primiano, was selected as the East Bay Chamber of Commerce Member of the Year. We passed a resolution honoring him, which will be presented to him by the Town Manager at the organization’s annual awards event.

One item for bid approval: Our Police Department has been partnering with the Warwick Police Department to purchase some of our decommissioned cruisers, as they use a wider range of aged vehicles in the large (by RI standards) city. Through this collaboration, we learned of an opportunity to more quickly secure a replacement vehicle for one of our SUVs than had been expected. We need multiple new vehicles, but there is a shortage of the model needed for our police department. Fortunately for us, Warwick was ahead of us in line for a 2019 model (un-used, but last year’s model, and available at a discount), but they were unable to get financing in order and we were presented with the opportunity to move ahead in line to buy it. A secondary benefit of the older model year is that most of the custom equipment we already own is able to be transferred to the new vehicle from the one being replaced. In total, Chief DeCrescenzo believes we saved more than 10% of the cost.

We then discussed an early draft of the Short-Terms Rental Ordinance that we’d directed the Town Solicitor to draft (I abstained from that vote last month, because I am against such an ordinance, but not against the discussion of one). I am aware that the nuisances caused by some short-term rental guests have been significant. As we discussed the details of this ordinance, I am further convinced that an ordinance regulating STRs is not the way to resolve those nuisances. Councilors Boyajian and Hearn shared similar sentiments, believing it was more regulation than necessary. Councilor Boyajian sought more information about the number of calls made to the police from homes that are short-term rentals. I questioned where the responsibility rests if a guest in my home causes a public disturbance or violates the noise ordinance. It is the property owners responsibility. In my view, that means the distinction of whether the guest is merely a guest or a short-term rental paying guest is not material. We collectively decided to discuss this issue again at our next meeting, when we have more information relating to the number of police calls and can see how many properties are “short-term rental problems” in this regard.

We then introduced an ordinance that reduces the number of limited liquor licenses in town, from 4 to 3. And we held a public hearing and a vote on an amendment to the ordinance prohibiting alcohol on town property. The amendment allows for the Town Manager to grant permission for the consumption of alcohol at an event held on town property. This was in response to a recent event. A 50-year Barrington High School reunion asked to hold their event in the Council Chamber. They wanted to serve alcohol, but were prohibited from doing so. I asked for an edit to the amendment that would only prohibit the possession of an open container. My thinking was related to employee birthdays or gifts during the holiday season, and the possibility that town employees may receive a gift of a bottle of wine, and not wanting to have that be an infraction. The amendment, with my edit, passed unanimously.

We set the agenda for next month’s Council meeting, which will include:

  • Public Hearing for 2019-24 An Ordinance Amendment to Chapter 63 Alcoholic Beverages (reduce BVL)

  • Public Hearing for Liquor License Renewals

  • Victualling Licenses on the Consent Agenda

  • Save the Bay Presentation

  • Continuation of Public Hearing for 2019-17 Ordinance - December 2, 2019

  • My addition: Introduce or discuss an ordinance that will prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, vaping pens, and related products on Town Property

  • Emerged from the meeting: Short-term rental stats and waste disposal

 

We moved into Executive Session to discuss litigation relating the contract continuation, and land acquisition.

Following Executive Session, we announced in Open Session a vote that had been taken in Executive Session to proceed with contract continuation litigation. The vote passed 4-1-0, with me being the sole nay vote.

As always, if you have any questions about the content of this post, the meeting agenda, or anything else going on in town, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what we can do to make Barrington event better!

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