Once again, Mr Chambers has written a Letter to the Editor filled with misinformation. His letter was in regards to the $3,095,000 included in Charlestown’s budget. His incorrect statements need to be corrected.
At the March 11, 2019, Town Council meeting, I proposed, not just a festival event center as he stated, but my actual proposal (as documented in the TC minutes) was to “form an Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose of determining resident’s support for constructing a Community Recreation Center and/or Festival Entertainment Venue on the town owned 55 acres in Ninigret Park. Alternative sites within the town could be considered for the Community Recreation Center”.
My proposal also included 7 voting members of the Ad-Hoc Committee. One member from Parks & Rec, one member from the Economic Improvement Commission, one member (Charlestown resident) from the Chamber of Commerce, and four members at large.
The charge was to gather feedback from Charlestown’s residents as to their interest in building either of these options, and also included doing a professional survey, with a budget not to exceed $30,000. With the key being to ask the 8,000 residents of Charlestown what, if anything they want to build.
Mr. Chambers mistakenly stated in his letter, “The community center is a line item in this budget” He is incorrect. The line item in the budget is for “Transfer to Construction Fund”. This can be viewed on page 20 of the budget available on the www.charlestownri.org . That means if approved in the budget, the money can be used for any “Construction”.
Mr. Chambers tries to argue in favor of approving the expenditure by saying, “This would be like not purchasing a beautiful house because you don’t like the color of the curtains”. I disagree with his analogy. The better analogy is, this would be like purchasing a $3,095,000 house just because someone tells you it’s beautiful. I wouldn’t do that with my personal funds, nor would I do that with taxpayers money.
Mr. Chambers stated over 200 signatures were delivered to the town clerk supporting a community center. Over 300 signatures were delivered to the town clerk requesting a professional, objective survey to determine the Town’s recreational needs, and what if anything the voters are willing support. The petition also asked the town not to allocate the $3,095,000 for a Community Center as there currently is no plan for any facility.
Mr. Chambers referred to comparisons to South Kingstown’s Recreation Center as “apples and oranges”. I disagree. At the March 11, 2019 I asked one of my fellow Councilors what she envisioned in a Recreation Center. She stated, “ maybe tennis courts, maybe basketball courts, maybe racquetball courts”. South Kingstown’s Recreation Center has indoor basketball courts.
Their Recreation Center does not include a Senior Center as is proposed for Charlestown. Their Recreation Center (with indoor basketball courts) cost over $6,100,000. They have public water and public sewer. We do not. We will be required to put in either an expensive denitrification system or composting toilets.
Ninigret Park is located in the High Wind Zone, which requires stricter (more expensive) building requirements than what was required in South Kingstown.
Now that the corrections have been made, here are my concerns with this “Construction Fund” item in the budget.
First, there is NO plan for this $3,095,000 line item. If the voters approve the budget, we will not know what we will get. Other large building projects in the Town have been approved as separate warrant items after plans were established and public meetings were held. Two examples are the Police Station and the Beach Pavilions. This time we are being asked to approve the money before the plan.
Another concern, my fellow Councilors have repeatedly stated they will solicit public input and no decisions would be made until then. This has already been proven to be untrue. At least one decision has been made outside of a public meeting. The location of the Center. The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) website, states, “ This new facility would be located in the northwest corner of Ninigret Park, the corner nearest the Umbrella Factory”.
This location was never discussed in public by the Council. The Master Plan for Ninigret Park shows this location designated for the “Concert Festival Center”. This was the very item my fellow Councilors refused to include in the charge of the Ad-Hoc Committee. The location of a “Community Center” as proposed in the Master Plan is near the tennis courts. A political action committee should not be making decisions for the town.
I believe before we, the residents of Charlestown, are asked to allocate $3,095,000 for “construction” we deserve to know exactly what we are voting on. I believe the money should be placed in the General Fund where it can not be touched by the Council, unless the people of Charlestown authorize the expenditure.
I voted against putting forth the budget to the voters with a line item for “Construction” and I will vote against the budget on June 3, 2019. Before an expenditure of this magnitude is approved, we all have a right to know exactly what we are getting for our money.
These statements represent my opinions and not those of my fellow Councilors.
The writer is the vice-president of the Charlestown Town Council.