190523ind LibraryFile

Protestors pack into council chambers at Narragansett Town Hall to urge the Town Council to not cut funding for the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library on May 6.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Days after releasing a statement supporting the funding of a new town library, headlined by the phrase “Libraries transcend politics,” Narragansett Democratic Town Committee Chairman Win Hames said Monday that he intends to run for a seat on the town council, and that he’d push for the town to take the Belmont property by eminent domain if it is sold.

“Make sure every one of your buyers knows that,” he told the council.

Hames last week released the statement with Republican Town Committee Chairman Michael Riley, with both men urging the Town Council to support the construction of a new library at the Belmont building.

Town Council President Matthew Mannix issued a public statement in response to Hames and Riley. Mannix said he was receiving criticism for trying to “undo the costly Gilbane library deal,” and that Riley’s wife, library Board of Trustees head Laurie Kelly, has aggressively pushed for it.  

Mannix called Riley’s and Hames’ assertions that the library issue is apolitical “laughable.”

“Perhaps, as local party chairs, they should unite in opposition to the recent passage of the Evergreen contracts at the State House, which will cripple the autonomy of cities and towns to keep taxes low,” Mannix said. “But such an effort would require political courage.”

In their statement, both parties also agreed that the current library should be level-funded. The council is moving toward adopting a budget that would reduce town funding from the current $841,000 to $400,000.

At Monday’s council meeting, the council voted 3-2 to accept the first reading of the budget as presented. A second reading will take place June 3.

Voting against it were Councilors Patrick Murray and Jesse Pugh, who have consistently tried to advance the Belmont building project and restore library funding from the town to $841,000 for 2019-20. Pugh, Murray and audience members were angry when Mannix didn’t allow public comment because, he said, it had already happened at the public hearing.

Lema, Lawler and Mannix have argued that the library board should tap its $686,000 reserve to fund library operations. Library supporters say the money is there to support two pensions the town refused to fund and for possible use on the Belmont building.

Pugh and Murray also tried Monday to get approval for the town to publicly advertise and market the Belmont building for sale, a move they said is aimed at bringing transparency to any council effort to sell the structure.

“I’m just afraid I’m going to wake up one day and find out the Belmont building’s been sold,” Murray said.

Closed-door executive sessions about the building have taken place, and Mannix said Monday part of those talks has included “trying to fix something with one of the tenants.”

The move failed on a 3-2 vote.

The political parties encouraged voters to educate themselves about the library issue.

“Accurate and factual information is readily available at the library. There are video recordings of Town Council meetings, newspaper articles, documents from workshops, etc.”

In a break with recent votes, Mannix sided with Pugh and Murray to approve partial repairs to the roof of the Loontjens Library by Abcore Restoration Company, Inc. of up to $25,100 from the library reserve fund to fix leaks.  

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