WESTERLY — With no money in its budget, the Westerly Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force has re-entered a period of latency.
The two grants the organization relied on in recent years have been spent and its application for a third denied. Mark Sullivan, task force chairman, said in an interview on Thursday that he anticipates a new application being filed soon for a federal Drug Free Communities grant. "I am quite confident that we're going to reapply," Sullivan said, adding that the decision is up to the entire task force.
Sarah Hall, who served as task coordinator for about 20 months, left in late October. Ashley Iadevaia, who was assigned by the South County Prevention Coalition as the task force's new part-time coordinator, could likely write the grant application, Sullivan said.
The newly created coalition serves Westerly, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, Narragansett, New Shoreham, North Kingstown and South Kingstown.
The task force also hopes to receive funding from the Westerly Town Council. Sullivan said, "I would hope the town would provide funding. It would be extremely helpful and socially responsible. With the council being as inquisitive as it has been recently, I think it would help if they had some skin in the game."
Sullivan appeared Monday before the Town Council during the citizens comments portion of the meeting to address recent comments about the task force by members of the council, who had asked for a financial accounting of its work. Sullivan reminded the council that the town serves as the task force's fiduciary agent and that the group's expenditures are disbursed through the municipal finance department.
"There seems to be scant appetite for any town funding for the task force and yet we remain besieged by non-specific and frankly nonsensical inquires as to the financial status of the task force," Sullivan said.
If the council wants to review how the task force spent the grant, Sullivan said a financial history was submitted to the finance department by Hall just before she concluded her work.
"The town is the fiscal agent for the task force. As such, the obvious place to go for financial information on the task force would be the town's finance department. We are volunteers on the task force. We are not accountants, we don't handle the money, we don't write checks — we submit invoices through the coordinator but we don't do finances, that's not what we're here for," Sullivan said.
Rather than ask questions during a public meeting when he is not in attendance, Sullivan encouraged council members to call him with their questions.
The task force met in January and received an overview from Iadevaia and South County coalition coordinator Heidi Driscoll on the state's new regional approach to substance abuse prevention efforts.
Town Council President Christopher Duhamel said he planned to invite Driscoll and Sullivan to a council meeting in the near future. According to Duhamel, council members recently received a spreadsheet on the task force's expenditures from Town Manager J. Mark Rooney.
Councilor Sharon Ahern said she stood by comments she made in October about the task force during a candidates forum. At the time she called for disbanding the task force and assigning its responsibilities to the Westerly Police Department and Westerly Hospital. "It's an issue that has overtaken the task force," she said, referring to the effort to prevent substance abuse.
Sullivan noted that both the police and the hospital are represented on the task force.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said the council should consider the task force's future. He praised both the current and past members of the task force.
"The council owes you and the task force a decision. We have to have a face-to-face on what's the future of the task force ... everyone knows we have a crisis in our town and how we address it going forward is important, so let's have the discussion sooner rather than later because we need a plan," Cooke said.