In the iconic 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) was cursed to repeat the same day over and over again. Each day he would wake up to relive the previous day of his life in Punxsutawney, Pa. with the same outcome.
Our town has been grappling with a number of recurring issues over the last several years in a way that would make Phil Connors proud. While this council has made significant progress on a number of lingering issues, important issues remain unresolved. On Monday, June 8 we will either decide to move ahead or, as in the case of Phil Connors, continue to be cursed to repeat the same day over and over again with the same indeterminate outcome.
At the meeting the council will first decide the fate of the Wickford Elementary School. Almost a year ago, we voted 5-0 to issue an RFP to market and sell this property — which has been an unused town asset since 2005! The town received several proposals and staff vetted them. While staff concluded that all the proposals received had the capability to complete this project it recommended one in particular.
Unfortunately, however, the COVID-19 crisis delayed the process and consequently potential developers did not address the council until our last meeting. All developers reassured the council that they are able to move forward with this project forthwith. They also affirmed their obligation to pay for related project sewer costs and all were ready to move forward. Despite the foregoing, our council decided not to award this project in public; rather, they delayed the vote to the next meeting — in executive session.
This matter has gone on since 2005. That is far too long. Our council developed the bid criteria in June of 2019 and it has all of the information we have requested. We have an obligation to the taxpayers of community to act. Therefore, on Monday, June 8 I will be voting to give our town manager the authority to enter into a purchase and sale agreement to sell this vacant and unused town asset to the developer staff recommended. It is the same vote I made in public at the last meeting.
We will also be deciding the next steps for renovations of our vacant town hall located at 80 Boston Neck Road that the voters overwhelmingly approved in November of 2018. (The voters subsequently rejected a potential expansion of the building in 2019.) At the time, our town manager informed the previous town council that the town was retiring a significant amount of debt and that the bond referendum would not increase taxes as a result. While it is true that since this vote the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, it is also true that voters decided this matter overwhelmingly — and that it will not affect our tax rate. Accordingly, I will also be voting to move forward with this renovation project so this town asset can be utilized for select town functions.
To the citizens of our community, the question is will this council continue its track record of accomplishments to date, or are we cursed to wake up every day to relive and repeat live the same day over and over again with the same outcome in dealing with our vacant and unused town assets. I do not know about the other councilors, but I do not want our community to live like Phil Connors; therefore, I am voting to move our town forward and I hope the other councilors do also.
Gregory A. Mancini