Planning board examines capital budget

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 8:15am

The New Shoreham Planning Board held a special meeting Tuesday, May 25 and discussed the Capital Budget and Capital Improvement Plan, which outlines projected expenditures on capital improvements through 2029. The projects are divided by category and presented in a spreadsheet format so one can easily see which projects are proposed for each year, and how much each project is estimated to cost. Some of the larger ticket items include $1,500,000 for town employee housing in 2022, $750,000 for a new salt shed in 2022, $8,000,000 for Fire/Rescue Public Safety in 2023, $9,000,000 in school renovations in 2023, $1,500,000 renovations to the Coast Guard Station in 2024, $1,250,000 for a highway garage in 2024, $2,500,000 for Harbor facility and boardwalk in 2025, $2,000,000 for a new Transfer Station Facility in 2025, $2,500,000 for a new Public Safety Complex in 2026, and $1,250,000 for Corn Neck Road Sidewalk improvement in 2026.
Planning Board Chair Margie Comings began the meeting by saying that in years past the Planning Board had been more involved with the creation of the capital budget than they are now. She said they had gone from “way too much involvement to way too little.” She asked Town Manager Maryanne Crawford in what ways the Planning Board could be more useful in their involvement with the capital budget.

Crawford said this is the “first community I’ve seen where the planning board is involved in the budget process,” but that she sees them in a visionary role examining how the proposed projects fit in with the community. She asked how they, the Planning Board, saw themselves fitting into the process for the capital budget.

Member Chris Willi said that with planning, “if we can’t give attention to things that need it, we shouldn’t be looking for new things.” He cited the school as an example, which has items listed on the budget in 2023: $6,640,000 to replace the HVAC and
$2,430,000 to replace the gymnasium building envelope. Willi said that when he was on the School Committee eight years ago they talked about the gym’s failings, and the School Committee put together a building committee to address the problem.
“It’s still the same,” he said. He called for better prioritization of town projects, saying, “You can be the richest person in the world,
but if your house is falling down around you, you’re not the smartest...we need to focus on fixing the things we have.”
Member Gail Ballard Hall agreed with Willi, reporting that as a new member she has started fielding questions from townsfolk, asking her “Why isn’t the Planning Board more involved with the projects and properties we already have?”
Comings reiterated that the board was much more involved five years ago, but it “didn’t seem to be helping.” She advised that the board needed to get involved again, and said, “maybe we can do this with Maryanne (Crawford).”
Crawford addressed the expenditures and time frame at the school, explaining that the process to receive money for the project from the Rhode Island Department of Education takes time, but said she agrees with Willi.
“If we can’t be custodians of what we have, how can we take care of something new?” she asked.
Member Socha Cohen inquired about the Coast Guard Station, which is slated for a $1,500,000 renovation in 2024. Crawford said the buildings needed to be reevaluated to determine what is needed from a public perspective, and suggested the board tour the facility after September. Crawford explained the town is using it to house summer staff, but it would be empty after September. The new Chief of Police, Matthew Moynihan, will be living in the former Coast Guard Chief’s house at the Coast Guard Station, after minor renovations. The house has sat empty for several years, according to Crawford. The Coast Guard is currently responding to calls from Block Island out of their facility in Point Judith, as the station on Block Island was not serviceable for their needs. The Coast Guard transferred the station to the town in 1996.
One other big-ticket item drew questions from the board: the construction of a new public safety complex in 2026 for $2,500,000. Crawford explained that the fire engines the town would be purchasing in the future will not fit in the current building, so they will
need a facility for storing vehicles, as well as housing for fire and rescue employees.
The Planning Board ended its discussion of the Capital Budget, expecting to have a plan in place by fall for more participation in
what Comings called “budget season.”