Monday night’s meeting of the North Kingstown Town Council was the final meeting for Councilor Stacey Elliott, who announced she’d be stepping done from the role effective June 30.
“Due to personal reasons, I’m unable to finish my term and it’s something I could not have predicted two years ago when I decided to run for this position,” Elliott said. “I just want to take one quick minute and thank the citizens of North Kingstown for allowing me to serve this incredible community. I’ve tried to fulfill my term with dignity and integrity and I’ve tried to stick to my values while trying to make progress.”
The first-term Democrat made the announcement ahead of public comment, and thanked her fellow councilors for the work they accomplished together.
“I want to thank my fellow councilors for their collaboration and their will to improve our community,” Elliott said. “I respect each one of you and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far as a council.”
Fellow members of the council thanked Elliott for her service, and wished her the best with her future endeavors.
After all items on the consent agenda passed with little disagreement, the meeting had some rather contentious moments of debate, particularly regarding the approval of the town filing for a Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Program, which dealt with grants for both the North Kingstown Recreation Camp and the two Kingstown Crossings housing complexes for low-income and homeless families, the moving ahead on the Town Hall renovation project and the decision to reauthorize the town’s declaration of a State of Emergency. In the end, both measures passed, with the block grant passing 3-2, with Elliot, Council President Greg Mancini and Councilor Kerry McKay in support and Councilors Mary Brimer and Richard Welch in opposition, while the council decided to extend the State of Emergency declaration through Sept. 15 rather than to July 14, the day after the next Town Council meeting as had been practice since the pandemic began.
On the issue of the block grant program, council members were in relative agreement regarding the North Kingstown Recreation Camp, which serves children from low-income families in town and will be running again this year starting Monday through the end of August. However, the council split in regards to Kingstown Crossings, which consists of two complexes with 104 combined for formerly homeless families or those in danger of losing their housing the with Brimer asking Crossroads RI Chief Operating Officer Michelle Wilcox how many of the residents of the two complexes were from North Kingstown and Washington County as a whole, saying she was under the impression that the subsidized housing unit was meant to serve those in town and Washington County as a whole.
Wilcox said that she didn’t have the exact numbers on those currently residing in the complexes, but added that those with previous North Kingstown residences received priority. She added that they currently have 88 families on their waiting list, with 19 having current or previous North Kingstown addresses and an additional 22 being from the towns that border North Kingstown, while only two currently reside outside of Rhode Island.
Brimer questioned Wilcox’s conclusion of East Greenwich, noting that it is not part of Washington County, and said she believed preference should be given to those from Washington County as she believed the grant to be specifically for the county to serve its residents, which Wilcox countered by saying housing is permanent for all Kingstown Crossing residents, making them residents of both the town and county upon taking up residence in the complex, and adding that on average residents tended to spend five years at Kingstown Crossing and once they move out, many choose to stay in town or in the general area.
Elliott backed Wilcox, saying the discussion revolved around housing for families which in many cases are homeless or would be without it, and that they are North Kingstown residents as soon as they move in. Brimer said she didn’t disagree with Elliott, but that she felt Crossroads wasn’t “coloring in the lines” in regards to serving Washington County, which Elliott countered again with her previous point.
Welch told Wilcox he’s “never been happy with their math” going back to when they first came to town in 2008 and that he felt it was “about time (the Town Council) say no” to Crossroads, while Mancini told him the council would be hurting residents by voting no.
McKay said that while he’s frequently complained about Crossroads, he has always voted to support it as he saw it as a way of the town getting back some of their federal tax money every year and added that he’d like to see the block grants separated in the future, though was told that they had to be a package deal, and the measure soon passed by a 3-2 vote.
On the discussion of further action regarding the Town Hall renovation project, which was continued with the previous meeting, Mancini said he believed all were in agreement that Option A was their best way to move forward, but McKay raised his concerns again that the estimated price of $680 per square foot of the building was “ridiculous” and that he wanted to see another town department move into the building to make more use of it, especially since the Wickford Art Association withdrew their interest after discovering it could cost them their tax-exempt status.
Welch agreed with McKay, citing his longtime work as a contractor, and stated he would continue to be opposed to the proposal as he always had been and that no one else wanted to listen to what he had to say on matter, prompting Mancini to say any issues Welch and McKay had with the resolution lied directly with them as members of the previous Town Council.
“(McKay) made the motion and (Welch) you seconded the motion (on the resolution), it’s in the minutes,” Mancini said, pointing to the April 19, 2018 Town Council meeting.
Elliott expressed her frustration with the progress of the renovations over a year and a half after the bond resolution was passed by North Kingstown voters.
“We got permission to spend $5 million and we still haven’t done anything,” Elliott said, adding they owe it to the voters of North Kingstown to get the ball rolling and that she’d rather the Town Hall have a smaller space of nice quality rather than a larger space of lesser quality left underutilized.
Mollis said that while he agreed with McKay’s assertion of the price being very high, the market was what dictated the cost.
The item went to a vote and passed 4-1, with Welch as the sole dissenting vote.
In regards to the extension of the local declaration of a State of Emergency pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, McKay let his anger and frustration with the shutdown and gradual re-opening known
“I believe these executive orders have become a political tool,” McKay said, laying blame on Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Democratic Party as a whole for violating of the Constitutional rights of Americans and that it is time to fully re-open both the state and country as a whole while allowing people and businesses to put any precautions they saw fit in their own hands.
Mollis countered by saying that the state holds authority over the municipality in relation to much of the restrictions and the best way to help support businesses, particularly restaurants, in their reopening would be to continue along the same path they’ve been taking, and that by voting it down, it would put those businesses in jeopardy in regards to reimbursements and could see them closed down, a statement backed by North Kingstown Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Scott Kettelle, calling on the town in his capacity as the latter to continue the measure.
After some further debate and discussion, McKay, who told Mollis and Kettelle his frustration was not with them but rather Raimondo and the state, agreed to vote on the measure, pushing for a 90 day extension so they wouldn’t have to vote on it at another meeting and in hopes that they could end it when deemed able to do so.
They agreed on an extension to Sept. 15, the day after a scheduled Town Council meeting, and it passed 5-0.
In regards to the reopening plans, Mollis addressed them directly in his Town Manager’s report, saying that all Recreation Department facilities in town were now open, save for the Beechwood Senior Center, and that the town offices are set to be reopened with limited hours starting Tuesday.
The next Town Council meeting is set for July 13, with the location being the Beechwood Senior Center or another virtual Zoom meeting still to be determined.