NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — It’s been six months since new North Kingstown town councilors Stacey Elliott, Mary Brimer, and Gregory Mancini were sworn in alongside incumbents Kerry McKay and Richard Welch. Since then, they’ve been working together to take care of business left by their predecessors and start moving forward with their new agenda.
“Day one, I think that, to the extent possible, we hit the ground running working together,” council president Mancini said. “I think it’s been a learning experience for all of us, but I also think it’s been a…good experience because I think we’re all working in a very cooperative fashion.”
Brimer admitted that there’s always a learning curve once a candidate becomes elected, and said the staff and McKay and Welch have been welcoming.
“I think that all five of us genuinely have the town’s interests at heart,” she said.
“Right now, we’ve got five very intelligent people on the council who are willing to work together instead of in opposition to each other,” McKay said. “I think it’s worked out exceptionally well so far.”
According to Mancini, there were 12 lawsuits initiated with the old Town Council that have taken up a lot of the new council’s time over the past six months.
“By far the biggest achievement is that we settled the Rolling Greens lawsuit,” Brimer said. “That saved taxpayers 10 million or more dollars.”
Preserve at Rolling Greens developer Mark Hawkins initiated a lawsuit in 2017 after a town council zoning ordinance decision prevented any further steps for his mixed-use development. The Town Council settled with Hawkins and he can now bring his proposal back to the planning commission.
“The project is a good project and has been a good project since day one,” McKay said.
One of the other lawsuits involves Turning Point Energy, a company that wants to install solar panels in the town. Mancini said he and other councilors oppose the project and will “do our best to see that doesn’t materialize.”
Pressing matters like the town budget took precedence recently and the council successfully passed a new budget. According to Mancini, the budget provides full funding to district schools and enables them to fund the town without losing any services. The total increase to taxpayers will be slightly under 2.5%.
The Town Council also unanimously decided last month to change from a three platoon to a four platoon system for the fire department.
According to Elliott, one of the long-standing issues the council moved forward with was what to do with town hall. The council decided to add a question to the ballot in fall 2020 for additional bonding to ask the citizens whether or not they want to renovate the town hall to make it a functioning town hall.
“To me it comes down to whether we want to be a historical community or not,” Mancini said.
“I have serious questions about the efficiency and wisdom of putting $12 million in that building,” Brimer said. She believes there are other assets that they can “utilize and maximize” within an existing $5 million bond.
Mancini said that during the second half of the year the council will be able to focus more on their new agenda. According to him, some of the council’s highest priorities going forward include work at Wickford elementary school, town hall renovations, the expansion of the town’s commercial tax base, development policies that allow the town to retain its rural character, and “appropriate development” on Post Road.
“We really need some stuff on Post Road that gives us curbside appeal,” McKay said.
Elliott said there will be a workshop coming up in August or September where they’ll be able to come up with an action plan for Post Road.
Brimer and Elliott are also looking forward to working with the School Committee and school department to adjust the town’s school start times. They want to push for earlier start times for the elementary schools and a later start time for the high school.
Brimer said the 9:30 a.m. start times at the elementary schools were a “women’s issue” and Elliott said the times affect “family life and economic development for families in North Kingstown.”
The push for a later start time at North Kingstown High school, where first period starts at 7:15 a.m., would enable students to get more sleep.
“It’s not healthy and there’s studies that show students perform much better,” Brimer said. She and Elliott are working with State Rep. Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) on the issue.