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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The members of the North Kingstown Town Council met virtually via Zoom Monday night and heard a report from Asset Management Committee Chairman Ed Cooney on the Capitol Improvement Projects (CIP) lined up in town over the next five fiscal years.

The presentation gave an update on the status of the $27 million bond approved by North Kingstown voters in 2018, which dedicated $13.5 million for town property projects and $13.5 million for school projects. According to Cooney, the period of deferred maintenance leading up to the bond vote coincided with a “debt cliff,” and only the passage of such a measure made them able to complete projects without an additional strain on the town’s operating budget or an increased tax rate.

As of Jan. 14, $4,623,086 of the $13.5 million dedicated to the town had been spent, going into projects such as paving, repairs to the public safety complex and North Kingstown fire stations, the North Kingstown Free Library, the Municipal Golf Course, DPW buildings, Wilson Park fields, town and park restrooms and the Old Town Hall renovation at 80 Boston Neck Road. For the schools, $7.8 million of their $13.5 million has been spent as of Nov. 17, with the renovations to the North Kingstown High School Stadium and an HVAC system at the high school being the two most notable projects, along with replacing the windows at Davisville Middle School and the flooring at Stony Lane, Fishing Cove and Forest Park Elementary schools. 

In the schedule of Fiscal Years 2022 through 2026, the North Kingstown School Department is projected to spend $3.4 million on projects in FY22, the largest portion of which will go towards an HVAC system at Davisville Middle School, while the remaining $1.7 million is scheduled to be spent in FY23.

Within the CIP, there are four main funding sources: authorized bonds, enterprise funds, non-enterprise funds and the school department. In a priority ranking by the AMC members on the projects in each field, the committee prioritized water main condition assessment for enterprise funds, followed up by the rehabilitation/replacement of Well #10 and the sewers. For non-enterprise funds, top priority went to the reconstruction of the Gilbert Stuart Road Bridge, which Cooney says was the top rated overall project by the committee, followed by road maintenance projects and safety improvements to the parking lot at the public safety complex. In regards to the school department, AMC prioritized physical plant improvements, followed by academic capital and bus fleet upgrades. 

In departmental requests for FY22, the AMC said Public Safety, Public Works, Recreation, School Department and the Water Department requested a combined $9.6 million in funding, with Public Works seeking $6.6 million, the School Department seeking $1.5 million, $900,000 requested by the Water Department and $100,000 requested by Public Safety. This is the highest request of the upcoming five fiscal years, with the total going down to a combined $4.7 million in FY23 and as low as $2.9 million in FY26. The School Department is expected to continue requesting $1.5 million, while the other departments fluctuate. Beyond FY26, Cooney said the AMC envisions the eventual replacement of the Public Safety Complex, which he estimates to cost roughly $30 million for a combined envisioned request of $60.4 on the horizon. 

The higher price tag for FY22 comes down to the AMC’s recommendation to get to work on many of the projects as soon as possible so they don’t become costlier down the road. In their list of recommended projects, the AMC slated the replacement of Well #10, the reconstruction of the Gilbert Stuart Road Bridge, sewers and Public Safety Complex paving to occur and be finished in FY22, while they advised spending $500,000 a year the next five fiscal years on the physical plant, $200,000 on academic capital and $75,000 on the bus fleet. They also recommended spending $150,000 on the water main repairs in FY22, followed by $50,000 in FY23, FY24 and FY25 and nothing in FY26. 

To fund those projects, the AMC said $300,000 for the Water Main repair would come from the enterprise fund, as well as $600,000 for the replacement of Well #10 and $150,000 for sewers. Meanwhile, $1.1 million of the general fund will go towards the reconstruction of the Gilbert Stuart Road Bridge, as well as $137,335 for Public Safety Complex parking, $2.5 million for the Physical Plant, $1 million in academic capital and $375,000 for the bus fleet. 

The only project to take funding from two sources is paving, with $5,750,000 coming from the general fund and $500,000 already authorized by the 2018 bonds. 

In their recommendations, Cooney said that the AMC would like to see the town develop an Asset Protection Fund through setting aside five percent of the town’s total budget annually, which Cooney said would be $5.3 million when looking at FY21. This plan, Cooney said, could help ensure that the town is more proactive on repairs and replacements and argued it would save the town more money in the long run for those reasons. 

“I think it would be in the best interest (of the town) to keep up with our buildings and not let them go (into disrepair),” Cooney said. 

Additionally and related, Cooney also said the AMC wants to continue to clearly identify projects funded in FY22, conduct an inventory of all facilities and vehicles owned by the town and NKSD and to place a great emphasis on the five year plan that will match the needs of the school department.

For the proposed CIP for the NKSD in the current fiscal year, $5.1 million came from the 2018 bonds while $400,000 came from the Town Council capital and $14,000 from the NKSD Capital Reserve. In FY22, the AMC proposed $1.5 million in bonds with another $1.5 coming from the Town Council capital and $300,000 from the NKSD Capital Reserve. That number holds in their proposals for FY23 and FY24 before going up to $900,000 in FY25 and nothing in FY26. A remaining $4.2 million in authorized bonds was proposed for FY23 and nothing in the years following, while the Town Council capital stayed at $3.7 million in the from FY23 onwards, with the AMC envisioning a need for $58.3 million in the years following FY26. 

The Asset Protection Fund, which has previously been pitched to the Town Council, brought up some concerns from the councilors. Town Council President Greg Mancini said such a fund would require a significant tax increase, and he didn’t see such a proposal going over well – though he agreed that the town should take care of its assets in order to keep future prices from rising further.

Councilor Kerry McKay had similar concerns, saying he wasn’t sure if the taxpayers of North Kingstown would “have a happy commentary” regarding the five percent proposal, and also said he wanted to see the numbers of how much debt the town had, which were pulled up by James Lathrop and showed the town $15 million in debt on the enterprise fund and $30 million on the general fund, numbers which Town Manager Ralph Mollis said were nowhere near as high as other comparable towns in Rhode Island. McKay said that before doing anything, the town should look at what they need and what they can get rid of in order to improve those numbers.

Councilor Kim Page said that as a former member of the School Committee, she knew the work put it by the district and the AMC on coming up with school figures and thanked them for their work, while Councilor Mary Brimer echoed McKay’s latter point and that they would need to work to figure out how to get to that five percent number, and if done properly, that the number wouldn’t be as daunting as it appeared. 

“The ultimate goal of financial responsibility for us would be to not have to go to bond,” Brimer said, pointing to the importance of maintaining the town’s buildings and facilities, a point McKay also agreed with.

Elsewhere during the meeting, all items on the consent agenda passed unanimously and Mollis said in his Town Manager’s report that the town would be receiving 1,440 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state for residents 75 and older, which would be enough to vaccinate 720 North Kingstown residents 75 or older, or about 25 percent of that population in town, with the rest being eligible to get vaccinated at local pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens as well as at state vaccination sites. 

Councilor Katie Anderson asked Mollis what the town was doing to make sure the most vulnerable members of that population were given priority and information on where to get vaccinated, citing that many may not have access to social media to receive updates from the town, with Mollis saying the town is working to make sure all eligible residents are informed through a variety of means. 

Mollis also said he had been in touch with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to get temporary protective measures installed at the intersection of Brown Street, Philips Street and Boston Neck Road while the town awaits its replacement with a roundabout in late 2023 or 2024. 

The next Town Council meeting is slated for Feb. 22. The application form for North Kingstown residents over 75 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can be found at the top of the homepage of the town’s website, northkingstown.org.

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