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Highlights from the May 9 Town Council Meeting

Potential Open Space Purchase

The Council discussed the $2 million bond that was approved in a 2015 referendum, and whether to spend some of that on a purchase of a 102-acre parcel at 66 Carolina Back Road, owned by Carl Richard. The Council debated whether to begin that process by having the property professionally appraised.


Background

In 2015, Charlestown voters approved $2 million in bonds to finance the purchase of open space. Since 2016, the Town has spent $1,043,000 on four properties to be preserved as open space. The Richard property would be the eighth open-space property purchased by the Town. Charlestown currently has over 10,000 acres of open space.


In October, the town applied for a DEM grant that would provide matching funds for this proposed purchase. The grant requires the building of a parking area and walking trails. Councilor Deb Carney pointed out that the town’s volunteer Conservation Commission already monitors the trails and parking facilities of six properties, including the newly added Tucker Woods property. Adding another, especially without a plan for managing it, would stretch the resources of this volunteer group.


Councilor Klinger pointed out that as a former member of the Conservation Commission, she observed that seven conservation commission volunteers manage the trails of the existing properties; adding another property would add to the trail clearing, fire protection, and safety costs.


Other members of the council felt that the property should undergo appraisal, with later consideration of whether to purchase it. Councilors Van Slyke and Cooper felt that the property’s conservation value warranted purchase with open-space funds. All members of the Council agreed that Conservation Commission members should not bear 100% of the management burden.


Councilor Cody Clarkin, who earlier voted to submit a grant application in support of the purchase, recused himself from the proceedings due to a conflict of interest; a relative of his has a financial interest in this sale.


Ellen M. Corneau, Esq., Bond Counsel, answered questions about town bonds, how they are issued, how they are spent, and how they’re paid back. She explained that once a town purchases a property, it has three years in which to issue a bond for that purchase. Towns may issue tax-exempt bonds if the bond is issued within eighteen months, otherwise the town can no longer issue the tax-exempt bond and would have to issue the higher-rate taxable bond. Tax-exempt bonds are issued to pay for public projects such as land acquisition, the building of roads, or disposal of sewage. Tax-exempt bonds cost less to issue than taxable bonds. Ideally a town would issue the largest bond possible, to save on legal/closing costs. For bonds less than $2,500,000 the cost is about $26,000.


Public comment regarding the Richard property centered on the ecological benefit to purchase this property, as well as the sentiment among some that Charlestown’s property values are tied to the amount of its preserved open space. Some commenters supported the purchase because they believed that leaving it to private interests would result in development; others pointed out that because about twenty percent of the property is wetlands, it would not be subject to development because Charlestown prohibits building on wetlands.


Other Topics

The town budget public hearing was held on Monday, May 2, 2022.


In a second referendum on May 5, voters again rejected the proposed 2022-23 budget for the Chariho Regional School District. (See the full story on that at the Westerly Sun.)


The Council voted to adopt the Town's fiscal year 2022 budget. It will be submitted to voters at a referendum on June 6. Votes can be cast in person at the Town Hall from 8 am until 8 pm or by mail; mail ballots must be received by the Board of Canvassers Monday, June 6, at 8 PM.


The General Stanton Inn

The Council approved the liquor license for the General Stanton Inn, subject to receipt of all required paperwork and with the three provisions recommended by the Chief of Police.



See the full agenda at the Town meeting portal.

View a recording of Town Council meetings here. (Scroll down to “Past Meetings.”)


Upcoming meetings:

Planning Commission - Special Meeting: May 17, 2022 7:00 PM

Special Town Council Meeting (ARPA funds discussion): May 23, 2022, 7:00 PM

Special Town Council Meeting (Conservation Development ordinance): June 7, 2022, 7:00 PM

Next monthly Town Council Meeting: June 13, 2022, 7:00 PM


-- R. DeAngelo




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