WEST — When voters head to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll be asked to voice their opinions on a scaled-down $50 million school renovation, the third plan presented to the public in the past seven years. Officials hope a strict spending limit, state reimbursement and visible repair needs will combine to convince the public that third time is the charm, leading them to adopt Westerly’s proposed school bond.
“I kept hearing people say that they understood the need for the project, but they couldn’t support it at more than $50 million,” Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said during an interview. a recent interview. “That was the limit, then and now. The city council may have done us a favor by setting a cap, because it tells us exactly what we have to work with.
School bail is one of many local referendum questions Westerly residents are being asked on the ballot in 2022, as residents are asked to decide the fate of school renovation funding and rule amendment questions of the house charter. Voters across the region will also be tasked with answering three questions about state bonds as well as whether or not to allow the cultivation, manufacture and/or sale of recreational marijuana in their jurisdiction. hometown.
After a $71.4 million school renovation project failed in a 2019 referendum, the second time a plan has been voted down in four years, Garceau and school officials went back to the drawing board to rethink a more cost-effective plan that could help start dealing with ongoing installations. -based on needs.
The elementary school portion of the project would have completed Vision 2020, the city’s long-term educational facilities initiative launched in 2001. The plan led to the construction of Westerly Middle School, which opened in 2005 , and works worth $30 million. at Westerly High School which ended in 2010.
The latest project, if the bond is approved, would be eligible for a minimum state reimbursement of 35%, or $17.5 million. If all conditions are met regarding Rhode Island’s safety and learning requirements, the city could receive a maximum refund of up to 52.5%, or $26.25 million. The city would be responsible for $32.5 million at the start of the project, as noted in the bond question, but could see incentives reduce Westerly’s cost-sharing liability by up to $8.75 million. here the end of construction. Additional incentives would be based on the state’s assessment of completed work.
If approved, the plan calls for renovations to Dunn’s Corners and Springbrook Elementary Schools to begin by December 2023, with work on both sites complete by August 2024. will work to secure design approvals for a new State Street School to be constructed adjacent to the existing building, with work beginning in March 2024 and ending in 2025.
The proposed $50 million project includes estimated funding for the three schools and takes into account project management, design and engineering costs, site works, construction, demolition, parking , road works, fields, furniture and equipment purchases, landscaping and a contingency fund.
The project as proposed includes a budget of $29.35 million for the construction of the new State Street School, $8.85 million for renovations at Springbrook Elementary School and $11.8 million for renovations at Dunn’s Corners Elementary School.
To sell or not to sell?
The fourth question on the ballot in Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown, and the fifth question on the ballot in Westerly, all relate to the same concept: would you allow the city in which you live to authorize “for the companies involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and retail sale of adult recreational cannabis” in the local community?
It’s a simple enough question, but the decisions voters make could also have financial implications for their city.
At a meeting with the Hopkinton City Council this summer, Matthew Santacroce, acting deputy director of Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation, said public education is the responsibility of local officials and lawmakers.
“During this process, we were careful not to adopt an advocacy position; it’s not our job,” Santacroce said last week. “Our job is to coordinate with companies transparently in accordance with the law. What you’re looking for is an advocacy effort, and I think legislators have a critical role to play in that process.
Across Rhode Island, 31 of the state’s 39 municipalities will put voters to decide the fate of sales in their community by going to the referendum. Under the new law, the industry will be heavily regulated under state oversight, with lawmakers set to establish a cannabis control commission in early 2023.
Communities where recreational marijuana is sold will, under state law, receive 3% of sales through a defined 20% tax system that mimics that used in neighboring Massachusetts. Under the system, the state tax and a secondary marijuana tax are also applied.
Santacroce said early revenue estimates indicate the impact of such a tax could mean up to $2 million to $3 million for a city where the sales take place.
Western Charter Amendments
As passed by Westerly City Council resolution in July, Westerly residents will also be asked to answer six questions related to proposed changes to the city charter. Officials described many of these measures as “housekeeping” measures designed to improve the efficiency of city operations.
For residents, Question 6 broadly asks for approval to stagger terms on Westerly City Council in accordance with recently approved term limits. If approved, the first four voters in 2024 would receive four-year terms while the next three would receive two-year terms. Going forward, each term of the council would be elected every four years. No councilor would be allowed to serve more than eight years under the change.
The next three questions, if all approved, would allow officials to eliminate the vacant positions of Director of Public Works and Director of Planning Services, as well as any references to roles in the city charter. The positions of Superintendent of Public Works and Superintendent of Utilities will remain in place.
It would also allow the city to make necessary language adjustments to the charter, as long as it does not impact operations or regulations, to be consistent with RI’s code of ethics.
For Westerly residents, questions 10 and 11 are financial in nature and would require the board to “engage in the bidding process established in the general laws of Rhode Island and seek proposals for an independent audit financial transactions and related documents of the city annually.” It also requires timely full publication in local media and online.
General Questions About Rhode Island
Rhode Island residents will all be asked to answer three separate questions in the upcoming election. The first asks whether to appropriate $100 million in capital funds for repairs and construction of new facilities at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay campus. The purpose of the center is to support education and research needs for marine disciplines.
A second question asks for an additional $250 million for public buildings, which would be used to fund the construction, renovation and rehabilitation of public schools in the state (possibly including Westerly, if they are also approved by referendum).
The state’s latest question asks for a total of $50 million for “Green Economy Bonds” to be allocated specifically as follows: municipal resilience, $16 million; Small Business Energy Loan Program, $5 million; Narragansett Bay and Watershed Restoration, $3 million; forest restoration, $3 million; brownfields remediation and economic development, $4 million; State Land Acquisition Program, $3 million; Matching Grant Program for Local Land Acquisition, $2 million; Local Recreation Development Matching Grant Program, $2 million; and the Roger Williams Park and Zoo, $12 million.
Richmond residents will also be asked to make changes to their self-government charter in the upcoming election.
The city is seeking approval to make the position of city administrator a position of city manager, which would grant more authority over the administration of staff, and an additional measure that would prevent council members from influencing the process of hiring, which would be the responsibility of the city manager. The CEO would retain hiring rights even if they were temporary.
Permanent city managers and other staff, under the proposed amendments, would also participate in a more comprehensive review process.
A separate set of questions is also intended to resolve housekeeping issues that will allow changes to the text, as long as they do not change the intent or outcome of an action, and provide the opportunity for the city to establish a municipal court.
One of the issues to consider, however, could impact local residents and how their voices are heard. If approved, a proposed measure would eliminate the city’s annual meeting in exchange for a budget referendum each year. The effort is designed to make the process more efficient and to allow residents to protect their vote.