Town Council appoints interim harbormaster

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 3:00pm
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Town Manager Jim Kern has recommended the Town Council “appoint Kate McConville as the interim Harbomaster, starting Feb. 16.” Kern made his recommendation at the council meeting on Monday, Feb. 3.

The next step in the process, explained Kern, would be to hire a permanent harbormaster. The process of hiring the permanant person would involve posting the position for five days, followed up by candidate interviews with Kern.

With little discussion, the council unanimously approved the appointment. After the vote, there was some applause from audience members. Steve Land recently resigned from the position and will leave the post on Feb. 14.

McConville told The Times after the meeting that she was “excited for the opportunity to manage and run a department I truly have passion for. I appreciate all the support the community is giving me during this transition time.”

Second Warden André Boudreau made a motion to appoint Doug Michel as the Town Moderator. The Town Moderator presides over the Financial Town Meeting in May.

Warden’s report

In his warden’s report, First Warden Ken Lacoste said the recent census taken on Ground Hog Day put the island’s population on the island at 921. Lacoste also said people should take precautions against getting the the flu, which was “going around on the island.”

Lacoste said the Town Council “received notification from R.I. Ethics Commission concerning our advisory committee request, in reference to the council’s taking action on food truck licenses, actions and locations. Martha did not have a conflict... myself and councilor Risom are the least conflicted.” This means that a quorum on an upcoming vote on mobile food establishments can be met, with Ball, Lacoste and Risom eligible to vote. The Ethics Commission ruled that Boudreau, who owns a food truck, and councilor Chris Willi, who is a tenant on property owned by food truck owner Carol Payne, cannot vote on the issue.

Lacoste also received notification from the Department of Environment Management that DEM and Fish and Wildlife officers will have a presence on the island during the current hunting season.

“There will be some enforcement present, particularly at Rodman’s Hollow and Black Rock,” said Lacoste.

Harbor Management Plan

The council also received a copy of the most recent version of the Harbor Management Plan. Kern updated the council on its status.

The Harbor Management Plan is the overall rulebook for uses and restrictions on marine activity on and in the island’s public waterways, including the two harbors and the Great Salt Pond. It has not undergone any extensive revisions in about 20 years, during which time much has changed in terms of boating activity.

“When I read this, it is very near completion. The changes have been annotated onto the most recent revision,” said Kern.

“It should have been [revision] 10 today, this would have been 10. But I don’t have the ability to change that and I didn’t realize that the clerks hadn’t received this, due to the flu outbreak,” said Kate McConville, currently the Harbors Department’s Administrative Assistant.

Kern said the “difference between the last revision and this one are the incorporated revisions we agreed upon. The copy that was on my desk when I got here had changes to incorporate those. There were a couple of images we were waiting on, to incorporate into the document. And a section of aquaculture that Kate was going to write up and has. These are the three things that have changed. As we said, we intended to get this to the council earlier but we had some illness issues in the clerk office last week... We have done what the council wanted done.”

Second Warden André Boudreau said “I would rather wait for a final than to vote on this.”

“Me, too,” said councilor Sven Risom.

Updates on the Harbor Management Plan will be incorporated as soon as possible, said Kern. The document will be reviewed at the Feb. 12 Work Session. The entire document with ordinances will be sent to Coastal Resources Management Council for review. A public hearing will be held on the matter.

Meeting with RIAC

Kern then providerd an update on a recent meeting with officials from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation at their offices in Warwick. Risom, along with Henry duPont of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders Group, were also present at the meeting on January 24. RIAC representatives Christine Vitt, Daniel Porter, David Cloutier and Jeff Goulart were present.

Topics included economic opportunities at the airport, the airport parking lot, the Fixed Based Operator contract, aircraft fuel, the status of the lawsuit involving residents living near the Westerly State Airport, and water supply issues at the Block Island Airport. These are areas that have been identified as possible new sources of revenue.

RIAC officials will be back on the island for a parking lot site visit in February to gather more information about how to better manage and monetize parking at the island airport.

2021 budget issues

Town Finance Director Amy Land updated the council on 2021 budget issues. Land said the updates were “an add on to our fiscal year 2020 financial update from a few weeks ago, where we addressed the fact that this year is tight, and we are working to manage that appropriately.”

Land said she was keeping an eye on “contractual obligations with New Shoreham Employees Association” and that she was still waiting for renewal numbers on health insurance.” Health insurance premiums are expected to rise.

“On the revenue side... we know our four percent tax cap generates additional revenue. We have strong seasonal revenue, but we are seeing a little bit of softness” in clerk fees, Land said. “There’s not a whole lot of room on the revenue side,” she added.

Land said she was trying to paint “a realistic picture, to come in knowing” about the town’s financial picture as departmental budgets for 2021 are being formulated.

Taxi recommendations

The council reviewed recommendations from the Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission on the number of taxi relief drivers allowed per vehicle and the hours taxis would be required to operate. No one from the MVFH was present at meeting. The MVFH acts as an adviroy board and passes its recommendations to the council for final approval.

A memo from the MVFH stated: “Among the proposed recommendations are two changes to the ordinance governing the number of relief drivers allowed per taxi and the minimum number of hours a taxi is required to be on the road between July 1 and Labor Day.”.

The proposed changes for the license requirements section in the memo read:

“Remove the restriction on a maximum number of drivers, and require taxi owners to notify the town within 24 hours via phone call, e-mail or in person at the Town Clerk’s office when drivers are added or removed from the Current Drivers List.”

The recommended changes on the revocation of a taxi license section included ”any taxi license when the taxi so licensed does not operate a taxi for at least 40 hours per week from July 1 to Labor Day.”

The previous number of hours was 35 hours per week. The memo also included a revised penalties in the revocation section:

“Penalty: $250 fine for the first complaint; $500 for the second, and loss of Taxi license for the third” complaint.

Council members agreed to continue the discussion to the work session scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.