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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown Town Council postponed making any decisions regarding the $7,868,124 of federal relief funds until further input can be gathered from the town manager and citizens as to how the funds should be used to help improve the town.

The federal funds are being received from the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds, provided to help communities in the wake of the pandemic, have specific uses and regulations around their use. Just as important, Town Manager Ralph Mollis said, is the fact that all the funds must be spent by 2026 or they will be taken back.

In light of this the council heard a proposal from the town manager’s office. These ARPA funds come with very specific things it can and can’t be used for and correctly allocating them, and using them in a timely manner requires the council to begin hearing proposals and dedicating funds to specific projects.

One possible allocation of the funds proposed by the town manager was a tax exemption of up to $25,000 for small businesses to cover the tangible property tax that is sent to all businesses. Mollis said that there are about 600 businesses in North Kingstown whose tax bill is $10,000 or less and that this would help lessen the tax burden on even more.

More conversation about the funds and proposals for their uses will be heard at the council’s next meeting on Jan. 24.

While the budget talks occupied the town council, the allegations of improper behavior by Former high school coach Aaron Thomas were the focus of citizen’s comments as they asked the council what protections the taxpayers had in case of a lawsuit against the town.

Town Solicitor Matthew Callaghan said that while the town did have insurance policies that would be effective, it was important to note that so far no complaints have been brought against the town.

Citizens who questioned the town council’s vote against freezing the school committee’s unrestricted fund balance as extra insurance against the cost of lawsuits were reminded that the town council did not have authority to freeze those funds and the vote was against officially requesting that the school committee voluntarily freeze its own fund balance.

In addition to concerns regarding the Thomas allegations citizens may also be concerned about the increase in recent COVID cases. Town services and buildings remain open, but in light of the spike of COVID cases, masks are now required at all times in public buildings. Mollis said that the town will be hosting a Booster clinic at the Community Center Friday for Moderna and Pfizer booster shots from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Those who wish to get their booster are asked to pre-register at vaccinateri.org/appointment.

“I want the public to know that North Kingstown has been very aggressive in keeping all of our services fully operational and open throughout these past two years and we’re continuing to do that during this recent increase in cases,” Mollis said.

Mollis also said that the town is planning to enter into a contract with a company called Boom Local. The company promotes small businesses owners by creating an updatable directory for their businesses.

“Plenty of Americans want to shop local and recognize the importance of doing so to support their communities, but they don’t know where to begin,” Boom Local’s website says. “Enter Boom Local – a directory connecting customers with the small businesses in the cities and towns they live in and love – at no charge to the small business or the customer itself.”

The deadline for applicants seeking the homestead exemption was also discussed, and Mollis said that there would be a strict deadline of March 15 for those hoping to claim the exemption on their taxes. Those seeking further information on the exemption can be found online or in-person at the assessor’s office where they are accepting applications Monday through Friday from 1-5 pm.

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