NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Town Council voted Monday to adopt a $61 million budget with a $441,000 cut to Narragansett’s transfer of funds to its library in a raucous meeting where police escorted a woman out of council chambers, a councilman tossed papers into the air and the acting town manager called for a five-minute ‘time out.’
The 3-0 vote happened without the cooperation of council members Jesse Pugh and Patrick Murray, who tried in vain to open the budget vote to public comment while Council President Matthew Mannix called repeatedly for a vote.
Council members Richard Lema and Jill Lawler voted with Mannix to pass the budget. That vote prompted a chorus of boos from library supporters in the audience.
The budget as passed would mean the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library will receive a $400,000 allocation of town money, down from $841,000 this year. The library has an annual budget of slightly more than $1 million.
It also puts in jeopardy $181,000 in state money for failing to fund the library at existing levels, supporters said.
To make up the loss of funding, the library board of trustees would likely need to draw from a reserve of about $686,000 to operate at current levels.
But Murray and others argued that after the next fiscal year, the reserve would be depleted. There’s also no guarantee of further state aid, they said.
Murray yelled from his council seat as he tried to argue his point, and Mannix responded that he was out of order.
“You’re out of order,” Murray shot back. “This whole place is out of order.”
Moments later, he flung a pile of papers he was holding into the air. The pages rained down around him and in front of the council chamber.
Pugh said he believed Mannix had violated the council’s rules of procedure by not allowing public comment, but that he had allowed such input on other agenda items and at previous council meetings. He said he would ask the state’s attorney general to look into the matter.
Mannix said the previous public hearing on the budget was adequate.
Acting Town Manager Sean Corrigan, who is chief of the police department, called for a five-minute recess. People huddled in small groups to discuss the vote and its ramifications before the meeting continued at a more orderly pace with other business.
During a later public comment period, Murray showed a PowerPoint presentation he’d prepared outlining the dire financial situation the library would find itself in, he said.
And police officers calmly escorted a woman out of chambers after she insinuated that a previous commenter was drunk.
“This is out of control,” Mannix said. “You have to speak about subject matter in the town that’s an issue...not a personal attack on another person in the room.”
Transfers of town money to the library had been a routine budget matter until the current year.
The library’s budget debate has added fuel to the fire over the council’s plans from January to sell the former Belmont Market building, owned by the town. Mannix, Lawler and Lema voted to do so, with Pugh and Murray opposed.
In 2016, voters passed a $5.8 million bond item to renovate the building into a new library. Since the council’s January vote to sell, the property has not been publicly advertised.