standing Richmond Town Hall NEW

RICHMOND — An effort to “think outside of the box” on the best ways to use the town’s share of municipal COVID-19 relief funds has led members of the Town Council to form an 11-member Wellness Committee to determine various ways the town could benefit by using the money for development of recreation and wellness space.

The Town Council on Tuesday authorized Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft a resolution that would formally establish the Richmond Wellness Committee and set guidelines and qualifications that the town would be seeking from those who serve on it. The committee will be tasked with three goals, which include identifying harm caused by the pandemic, describing the effects of that harm, and explaining how the proposed initiatives would serve to address the effects.

Richmond Town Council President Nell Carpenter said the committee is a first step in addressing a growing need for recreational space and community or senior center programs, desires expressed by a host of residents during a recent survey on the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The comprehensive plan speaks to the goals, but we need to develop new community recreation facilities in town,” she said. “We should be working towards developing both short- and long-term recommendations, and a wellness committee will serve that need.”

Members of the council also authorized Ellsworth to act “as quickly as possible” to advertise committee positions in an effort to appoint members and get the committee up and running in an expedited manner.

Carpenter, who had submitted a request to have the formation of the committee added to Tuesday’s agenda, said the concept was one that came into view when other Rhode Island communities, including Westerly and Providence, committed to using COVID relief funds on projects that improved recreational opportunities in town.

In Providence, she noted that officials were using some of the city’s funding from the American Rescue Plan toward a center to aid in addressing homelessness and related issues, as well as building a welcome center in the city. Westerly has committed $400,000 in anticipated federal funds toward demolishing the Potter Hill Mill, although actual commitment of the funds would be contingent upon a Superior Court judge approving an administrative lien that would give the town top priority to recover the funds.

With these concepts in mind, Carpenter said the Richmond Wellness Committee would be encouraged to look at the wide-ranging impacts that the pandemic and economic shutdown have had on residents, as well as providing detailed project ideas on the best ways to create solutions that address the most significant community needs.

“We should be deeply thinking outside of the box and using these funds in ways to provide recreational opportunity that is enhancing the community at a time that is the most critical,” she said. “Richmond can do the same with a group of select individuals in the industry who would be able to gather the available data to best serve our residents.”

Members of the council agreed with the need for a committee, but expressed a desire to see it composed more specifically of a wide-ranging group of health and wellness experts. The council is calling on doctors and medical practitioners, engineers and architects, social workers, educational professionals, mental health professionals, military or veterans advocates, and first responders. Financial experts and other specialized exercise professionals would also be considered.

Councilor Rich Nassaney also called for one of the seats to be awarded to Police Chief Elwood M. Johnson Jr. or a designated representative to serve on behalf of law enforcement He said that the chief’s perspective would be essential in gathering accurate data.

“The chief has to be on it. We need somebody who sees the impact of this pandemic and has seen all those social issues and domestic issues as a result of COVID,” Nassaney said. “We need input from those who see it every day.”

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