SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – The public town meeting has been a core component of civic life in New England for almost 400 years.
But the steadily-turning gears of government were suddenly slowed this week with the arrival of measures designed to limit the spread of coronavirus, and South Kingstown and Narragansett haven’t been spared.
Both communities have canceled various town meetings and gatherings, shut community and senior centers as well as libraries and schools (see story) and curtailed public visiting opportunities at Town Hall.
At the same time, they’ve ramped up their online resources for residents to receive information and get help and interact with officials.
In South Kingstown, this week the Town Council was supposed to take up preliminary adoption of the 2020-21 budget on Monday.
That meeting was canceled, along with a Wednesday Zoning Board of Review meeting and a Probate Court session for Thursday.
The council now is scheduled to take up its budget adoption at its next meeting, planned for Monday, March 23. The agenda items planned for Wednesday’s Zoning Board of Review meeting will be moved to the meeting currently planned for April 22, and Probate Court items scheduled for hearing will be moved to the next Probate Court date, currently scheduled for April 16.
“The town will continue to review its schedule of public meetings over the coming days and weeks, and should the decision be made to cancel additional meetings, this will be announced,” Town Manager Rob Zarnetske said. “Meetings that have been canceled will be rescheduled as appropriate, or agenda items moved to the next meeting.”
South Kingstown regularly live streams and video records its Town Council and School Committee meetings, and they are available on the town and school websites, respectively.
In addition, Town Hall and all municipal offices that remain open to the public are no longer allowing walk-in service, and are open to the public by appointment only.
“Many questions can be answered by phone or email, and many services are available on the town’s website – an appointment may not even be necessary,” Zarnetske said.
Members of the public can use the drop box at Town Hall to submit items that do not require face-to-face interaction, such as tax or utility payments (no cash), employment applications, and similar items. If an appointment is necessary, residents can call (401) 789-9331 and use the department directory. The staff directory is also available as a link on the town’s homepage.
South Kingstown police have postponed all VIN checks, background checks and burn permits, and all but emergency court sessions in Wakefield are canceled.
Narragansett has taken similar actions in response to precautions around spreading the virus.
The town is asking residents and visitors to use its online services and obtain general information by calling first as opposed to meeting town employees in person to conduct transactions. If there is a need to meet face to face, visitors should call the main number at (401) 789-1044 to reach the appropriate department and make an appointment.
“Please do not just walk in the office without an appointment,” the town said in an announcement of the changes. “We are trying to protect our residents and our employees and all their families by limiting personal exposure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask yourself, ‘Can I do this on-line, on the phone, through utilizing a drop box? If the answer is yes, please conduct your transaction that way.’”
The town also canceled its March 16 Town Council meeting, and has closed the community center for two weeks.
At the Narragansett Police Department, all VIN checks, background checks for volunteers and fingerprint appointments are postponed until further notice. The records department will remain open but police are asking that records requests be made online to limit the amount of foot traffic in the lobby.
Libraries in both towns, and statewide, are closed this week.