NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — By another 3-2 vote on party lines, the North Kingstown Town Council adopted new language last Thursday night pertaining to swimming at town moorings by adjusting the Coastal Resource Management Commission’s (CRMC) recommended ban on swimming at moorings to a warning urging swimmers to do so at their own caution.
The adjustment, which had been continued from the March 29 meeting, was done to allow people to still swim at the moorings if they so choose while adhering to the CRMC and state rules regarding swimming, something Town Solicitor Matthew Callaghan said was required in order for the town’s Harbor Management Plan to be approved by the CRMC, who if the language was not adopted, would not approve the plan and take direct control of the town’s approximately 600 moorings and enforce their rules as written.
After discussion was tabled in March over concerns and complaints from citizens, particularly those that own boats that are at or live near the mooring, on how the legislation would negatively affect them, Callaghan said he sought about writing language to create a compromise between the citizens and the CRMC, with the CRMC saying the new language, which urges swimmers at moorings to do so at their own risk and makes them liable for any accidents that could occur with a vessel, was satisfactory for them and alleviated their concerns of being liable in any potential accident between a swimmer and boater at a mooring.
Councilor Kerry McKay, while saying he appreciated Callaghan’s work, said he believed adopting any language was a violation of the rights of the taxpayers of North Kingstown, arguing that public land is owned by the public rather than the government, a point Callaghan refuted from a legal standpoint. McKay accused his Democratic colleagues of not doing enough to protect the taxpayers of North Kingstown in favor of government overreach, a point which fellow Republican Mary Brimer backed, adding that all of the emails she had received from residents were against adding or adopting any language.
Councilor Kim Page said Callaghan updated the language to represent the concerns of residents, as not doing so would result in the town not being able to get approval for its Harbor Management Plan, a point backed by fellow Democrats Katie Anderson and Town Council President Greg Mancini.
The vote to adopt the amended language passed 3-2, with Anderson, Page and Mancini in support while Brimer and McKay were in opposition.
All other votes on the evening, including the receipt of a donation of a 2020 Carryon trailer to be used by the Recreation Department without limitation by the late Recreation Director Al Southwick, passed unanimously.
“This trailer is just another example of the selflessness of (Southwick),” McKay said.
The council also held a discussion on the Homestead Exemption, with Town Manager Ralph Mollis saying residential real estate value is rising substantially in the current housing market while commercial real estate, with the COVID-19 pandemic having further hastened the move away from traditional storefronts, stagnant and expected to drop.
“We have real concern as to what this is going to do (to) homeowners in North Kingstown,” Mollis said.
The reevaluation of property value will affect the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, Mollis said, with the valuations being current as of Dec. 31, 2021.
The council discussed looking at different options on how to address the valuation to the benefit of North Kingstown taxpayers, including exploring how neighboring towns handle their homestead, with Brimer particularly pointing to Narragansett due to the large number of property owners there who reside out of state and believing the town will have to have a workshop day regarding the Homestead Exemption. Mancini said on the homestead that he believes the town needs to protect all homesteads with some sort of cap.
After discussion, the council decided to continue the discussion to their June 14 meeting.
That meeting will be the first meeting since last fall to be held with the entire council live in the same room, with Mollis saying he has looked into bringing back live meetings at the request of the Town Council but due to the executive order from the state calling for the ability for citizens to have a virtual option to participate, one he believes will be made permanent, the town has to work on ways to set that up while also allowing an in person audience to attend and see the participants.
Mollis recommended all town committees meet virtually until the end of June in order to give them time to figure out and set up the capabilities for doing interactive live meetings.
The next meeting is scheduled for June 14 with the council themselves meeting at the reopened Beechwood Senior Center, while audiences will still remain virtual for the time being.