WESTERLY — Town Manager J. Mark Rooney declared a local state of emergency Monday afternoon as town officials continued to respond to the public health crisis spawned by COVID-19. In a related measure, all town buildings, with the exception of police headquarters on Airport Road, are closed.
Rooney said he made the declaration to better position the town for potential federal financial assistance and because the declaration could make it easier for the town to comply with and enforce state and federal mandates.
"It's just out of an abundance of caution to protect the public," Rooney said during an interview Monday at Town Hall.
The declaration also gives Rooney the authority to revoke business licenses without a hearing before the Licensing Board. Some businesses have been ordered closed by Gov. Gina Raimondo. Restaurants have been ordered to limit their services to takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery. In the event a business violated the governor's orders, Rooney could revoke the business's local license.
Rooney said he made the decision to declare an emergency after conferring with Town Council President Christopher Duhamel and Town Attorney William Conley Jr. The Town Council will make a decision on whether to continue or stop the declaration during a meeting scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. Town officials plan to allow the public to participate in the meeting electronically. The Board of Finance is scheduled to meet in the same manner tonight at 6 p.m.
Police Chief Shawn Lacey said businesses have been largely compliant with the orders and police requests. The police department is monitoring businesses several times each day. The department is working with the public and management at grocery stores to improve social distancing and to help stores that are limiting the purchase of certain items such as toilet paper.
Local 12-step groups are allowed to keep meeting but have been asked to comply with social distancing guidelines, Lacey said.
Residents are being encouraged to use electronic and mail services when doing business with the town. Those who require in-person assistance can do so by making an appointment by calling 401-348-2500 and asking for the desired department. The animal shelter will remain open but residents are encouraged to use it by appointment also. Emergency placement of animals will be permitted, Lacey said.
Some municipal workers have been asked to work from home, but all essential employees, including police, water, sewer and public works personnel, will remain on duty.
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said officials continue to look for ways to slow the spread of the virus, which in some cases causes extreme respiratory problems, and to keep businesses afloat.
"We'll continue to work together — the state and the town — trying to address not only the health issue but the small businesses as well," Algiere said.
Westerly Hospital, Rooney said, is prepared to use an outdoor area for COVID-19 testing if it becomes necessary, and the town's emergency management plan calls for use of Springbrook Elementary and Westerly Middle School as back-ups.
Here's how to access municipal services online, by mail and by phone:
April 28 Presidential Primary: The Mail Ballot application is available at https://vote.sos.ri.gov/Content/Pdfs/Calendar/PPP-MailBallot.pdf or visit the Town of Westerly website at Westerlyri.gov, where you will be able to print a mail ballot application.
Voter Information: Check your voter status and register to vote by visiting the following link: https://vote.sos.ri.gov/
Marriage, Birth and Death Certificates: Please visit the Town of Westerly website at Westerlyri.gov; click on Government/Departments/Town Clerk/Vital Records.
Land Evidence (Deeds, Mortgages, etc.): Visit the Town of Westerly website at Westerlyri.gov; click on Land Records Online. Land evidence documents can be sent for recording at Westerly Town Clerk, 45 Broad St., Westerly, RI 02891. They can also be recorded electronically though one of the town's vendors.
Probate: To obtain forms, please visit https://www.sos.ri.gov/divisions/business-services/probate-forms/. Probate filings can be submitted by mail to the Westerly Probate Clerk, 45 Broad St., Westerly, RI 02891.
Business Licenses: Please call the Town Clerk’s Office.
Town Council Meetings: Town Council meetings are video-streamed on the town website through ClerkBase. Click on agendas and minutes on the home page. They are also televised through Channel 18 (Cox) and Channel 29 (Verizon).
Payment of Taxes or Water Bills
By Mail: Use envelopes provided with tax bills and be sure to include coupon with payment. Those who do not have their coupon can mail it to: Town of Westerly, Tax Collection, 45 Broad St., Westerly, R.I. 02891. Payments must be postmarked by the quarter end due date and received by the end of the third business day of the grace period to be considered on time.
Drop-box Outside of Town Hall: A 24-hour drive-up drop-box is available on the Christ Episcopal Church side of Town Hall (alongside the building on the driveway heading out to Broad Street). Town staff pick payments up from here daily. Any payment placed in the drop-box after 2 p.m. will be processed on the next business day.
Credit Card Options: Point and Pay accepts Mastercard or Visa. Account and and pin number located in the box on the first page of your tax bill is required. Go to: https://Westerlyri.gov/TaxBill
Official Payments: The company accepts all credit cards as well as e-checks. You will need your account number and will need to know that Westerly’s jurisdiction code is 4910. Payments can be made by phone at 800-272-9829 or online at https://www.officialpayments.com/index.jsp. Both credit card providers do charge a service fee. To see the fee structures, visit the town website.
Tax Office Hours: The Tax Office is open from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
For an additional listing of online services, please go to: https://Westerlyri.gov/OnlineServices.