NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. —The debate over the proposed plan for annual rate increases for town-supplied water will continue into the new year.
In a 3-2 decision Monday night, the North Kingstown Town Council voted to table the vote and further debate over the proposal until February, with Town Council members Mary Brimer, Kerry McKay and Richard Welch voting in favor of the tabling while council member Stacey Elliott and Gregory Mancini were opposed.
“My feeling is that we’re putting the cart in front of the horse here and that we should put this off until February or March and make a decision then so we don’t lose the vote right now, because I’m not going to vote for this right now,” McKay said, voicing his concerns for what he believed was not having enough information provided to make a decision.
For Brimer, her concerns were with the variances in water usage from recent years and that she believed more research needed to be done in order to properly address the issue at hand.
“I am not offended or appalled by the rate increase presented, but I’m not able to approve this as it stands right now with an $8 million balance and not understanding how we got there in the first place,” Brimer said, adding she believed there was still key information missing for her to justify those numbers and that costs could be higher than anticipated.
“I think the purpose of the rate increase from the consultant’s standpoint is to exactly mitigate customer rate shock,” Mancini said. “So, as you say, it could be higher but I don’t think (the consultants) can ever know because all of the piping is underground.”
Mancini countered the argument, saying he believed that while the costs could be higher than expected, if they waited longer the costs could continue to rise.
McKay, who said he believed the project to be the most important infrastructure project the current council will face, voiced concerns over the costs of some of the projects, such as how a planned replacement of a well in 2020 is projected to cost $600,000 while a well redundancy/replacement in 2024 is projected to cost $3 million.
While the council seemed in agreement that a rate increase, the first in nine years, will need to happen, council members differed on the timeliness of the proposal.
“Investing in infrastructure is not an option, it’s something that we have to do,” Elliott said, citing the necessity of water access to the public. “The longer we put it off, the bigger the sticker shock is going to be. Just kicking the can down the road is something I’ve watched town councils previous to us do.”
Elliott said she believed the water department had provided the Town Council with all of the information they had asked for and that to her, the more “fiscally responsible” thing to do would be to be proactive on repairs.
“I agree the work should’ve been done previous to today, but I can’t change that,” Elliott said. “These replacements are going to have to happen. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a when type thing.”
Mancini said while he understood the points of concern from Brimer, McKay and Welch, he said he believed the town had hired a very able consultant to come up with the figures and echoed Elliott’s call for action.
“The pipes are underground and we’re not going to know what the (exact cost is),” Mancini said. “In the meantime, we’re going to waste 150 million gallons of water because of bad infrastructure.”
Following the vote, subsequent votes to reopen the public hearing, to postpone until February and to reconsider followed the same 3-2 line with the same councilors for and opposed to the measures.
Along with the decision in regards to the rate increase, the Town Council also voted in a 3-2 decision create a 10-person Wickford Advisory Committee to advise the council on matters related to Wickford Village.
The vote line differed this time, with Elliott, Mancini and McKay in favor while Brimer and Welch were opposed.
Welch said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the proposal, however he felt the notice received by the council members on Sunday night, which he says he did not see until Monday morning, left him with too little time to consider such a matter.
The Town Council unanimously approved a motion to proclaim North Kingstown a “Mental Health First Aid Trained Community,” to provide training for public safety officials in dealing with first aid response to mental health crises, as ran by Healthy Body, Healthy Minds Washington County and funded through South County Health.
They also heard concerns from several residents on Morningside Drive about the need for more speed limit signs as well as potentially speed bumps to deal with an issue they believed of people driving too fast down the road and potentially putting children’s safety in danger.
The Town Council will reconvene for a work session in regards to Post Road on Sept. 30, while their next regular meeting will be held on Oct. 4.