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Members of the East Greenwich Town Council and the town’s Board of Canvassers discussed possible dates Tuesday for the upcoming special election to fill Clark Smith’s seat on the School Committee.

Smith, who was elected to the school board in 2012, accepted a job in Cincinnati and will resign from his seat Sept. 28. With there being more than one year left in Smith’s term, a special election is required to fill the vacancy.

The Board of Canvassers provided council members with several potential election dates to choose from. One option would set a primary election date Nov. 24 and the election Dec. 29; another option would set a primary Dec. 1 and the election Jan. 5. However, several council members expressed concerns about those options, with the dates falling close to Christmas and the New Year’s holiday.

Councilor Bill Stone asked how far the election can be “pushed out” in order to avoid possible conflicts with holiday schedules. Canvassing Clerk Elaine Vespia said the town can extend the date “as far as [it] wants,” but needs to consider that ballots for the presidential primary will be mailed out between March and April.

Town Council President Michael Isaacs stated that the farther the election is pushed out, the shorter the unexpired term will be for the individual who wins the seat. That candidate will have to go back out on the campaign trail for possible re-election in 2016, he noted.

Councilor Suzanne Cienki asked if it is possible to move back the election date if a primary election is not needed. Vespia stated that in her conversations with Bob Rapoza, director of elections for the state Board of Elections, that if an election date is set, it must remain on the scheduled date.

“Once we set the date, [the Board of Elections] is planning on that,” Vespia said. “So even if we don’t have a primary, we still have to have the election on that [set] date.”

Another option for an election date brought up by council members was Jan. 12, almost two weeks after the holidays – with the primary election slated for Dec. 8.

When asked by Cienki if the special election could be held at the same time as the presidential primary, Vespia said she would have to confirm that with the Board of Elections.

Working an election around the daily school schedule also will be a challenge for the town. According to a memo written by Town Clerk Leigh Botello, Vespia confirmed with the Board of Elections that classes can remain in session on special election days. Therefore, the town would need to work with the local school district to make space at the four schools used as polling places – Archie R. Cole Middle School, East Greenwich High School and George R. Hanaford and Frenchtown elementary schools.

As far as the financial impact the election will have, Isaacs said the election would cost the town around $10,000, but the Board of Canvassers plans to speak with state officials to get clarification on how many people should be working the polls to “try and lower the cost a little bit.”

Possible sewer referendum on the ballot

Joe Duarte, director of the Department of Public Works, asked the council to place a bond referendum on the ballot requesting funds to repair the aging wastewater treatment facility on Crompton Avenue. He requested a question authorizing the town to obtain a $5.5 million bond to finance the replacement of all eight rotating biological contactors and other improvements to the plant on Greenwich Cove, with the money used to repay the bond coming from sewer users.

Over the last few years, Duarte has approached the council on several occasions asking for funds to fix major portions of the waste treatment facility. If and when all eight RBCs return online, it will be the first time since the late 1980s that the plant has been fully functioning, he noted.

The project will require the removal of the plant’s roof in order to access the RBCs, and the public works officials would look into options for how the roof should be replaced. Duarte suggested constructing a roof structure that resembles a Quonset hut to cover the units, which would save close to $500,000.

Duarte said the most recent issue at the plant involves its ability to meet required nitrogen removal levels. The plant has gone three months without achieving its removal goal, he said.

Typically, that would trigger a letter of deficiency – or possibly a consent order – from the state Department of Environmental Management and a request to bring the plant into compliance. Fines could also be levied if the plant isn’t up to code, with penalties as high as $25,000 per day.

However, Duarte said there have been good faith efforts made by the town to maintain the plant, which could keep the community in the clear as long as state environmental regulators are kept apprised of all issues at the facility.

The time needed to complete the repairs will be as extensive as the refurbishment, so timing is “crucial,” Duarte said. The design phase alone will take approximately six months, with the construction lasting between six months to a year, he added.

Vespia confirmed that the deadline to submit a referendum question to the Board of Elections is in November. The council is expected to vote on the special election date and a possible referendum question Sept. 28.

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