NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — North Kingstown voters delivered two decisive results in a special election Tuesday, as Question 1 failed with 58 percent of votes opposing the measure, while Question 2 passed with the support of 66.5 percent of 4,172 voters who cast ballots.
Nearly 18 percent of registered voters turned out Tuesday, one of the highest turnouts for a special election in town in recent memory. Many were driven in particular by Question 1, which proposed approving an additional $7.5 million in bonds to fund a complete renovation and expansion of the old North Kingstown Town Hall, a building first constructed in 1888 that has been out of service for the town since 2016.
Had it passed, the money would’ve been combined with $5 million in bond funds set aside by a voter-approved initiative last year, to bankroll a combined $12.5 million project that would’ve seen the building at 80 Boston Neck Road expand to five times its current size and bring all town offices return under one roof.
Supporters of the initiative argued that it made sense both logistically and economically to put all town offices in one building, and that the $12.5-million plan was the best way to preserve the building and make it a functional center of government.
Opponents argued that asking taxpayers for more money after they already approved $5 million for the project last year represented an unfair bait-and-switch, and that the building could be repaired for the originally-approved amount.
Other expressed concerns of 80 Boston Neck Road being located in a FEMA High Risk flood zone and took issue with the changes that would have had to be made to the Veteran’s Memorial Park, including relocating its memorials.
In total, 2,423 voted against the additional bond while 1,749 voted in favor of it.
The Town Council had been split on the issue when it voted in August to authorize a special election for the bond. Four of five councilors voted to authorize the election, with Richard Welch opposed. Councilwoman Mary Brimer voted to authorize the election, even though she opposed the question itself.
“It was a very common sense issue for me, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t putting my own bias in the decision-making process and wanted to allow the people to weigh in with an actual vote to prove that we were on the right path,” said Brimer said Tuesday night.
Brimer, a Republican, said the “No on 1” cause was more than just a one-party effort and that they received support from several Democrats, including Councilman Welch, and thanked the voters for their decision.
“We inherited this issue and I thought it was important for the voters to decide it and I’m glad that so many people went out and voted,” Town Council President Greg Mancini said.
Mancini, who supported the bond, said the Veteran’s Memorial Park issue “galvanized” the “no” voters and said he felt it played it significant role in the failure of the ballot measure.
As for where the town would go here in regards to Town Hall, Mancini isn’t sure, saying it’s something the council will need to figure out.
One of the plans presented to the Town Council in 2018 was projected to cost under $5 million, and would see a less ambitious restoration of Town Hall to allow for a Council Chamber and the return of some town offices, as well as the potential for some public and private usage for various special functions.
Under that proposal, most offices at the town government center at 100 Fairway Drive would remain there.
“Now it’s time to sit down and decide what exactly is going to go into the Town Hall and look at the budget of the $5 million bond that voters already approved in 2018 (and) how we can spend that responsibly and make the building usable for the community and for the town,” Brimer said.
Though it drew less attention in the run-up to the election, Question 2 was also the subject of some controversy, but ultimately passed easily.
It asked voters to authorize the town to enter a 25-year lease for a public/private partnership on solar energy production at two sites, 395 Hamilton Avenue and 480 Oak Hill Road. The town needed the authorization of voters to do so, since without their approval, the longest the town can lease its land for is 10 years.
Backers of the question said the panels will offset expenses for town government energy usage. Some residents opposed the project on open space concerns.
In total, 2,776 voters approved of the measure while 1,395 disapproved, meaning the question passed with nearly a two-thirds majority.
“I think Question 2 is a good deal for the citizens of our community and I’m pleased that it passed,” Mancini said. “(Now) we’ll just implement the will of the voters.”