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If you want your voice to be heard, vote NO!

My introduction to Charlestown politics concerns a current budget line item of $3,095,000 to build a Community /Recreation/Senior Center in Ninigret Park. This is 10% of our annual budget of $30,000,000. The suggested location is where a Concert and Festival Center, or Band Shell was initially proposed with acoustical structures to help improve sound control for summer concerts and entertainment in the Master Plan for Ninigret Park.

Our Town Council announced that they discovered a $3,095,000 surplus in our Town Budget! The majority of our Council believes the best use for the funds is to build a “Community/Recreation/Senior Center”. The specific location they favor for building the Center appears to interfere with future use of Ninigret Park’s entertainment areas. The majority of the Council has embraced this proposal with no architectural plan, no financial plan, and no ongoing operating budget. They also decided not to consult the majority of voters about their plans. Instead, they earmarked the $3,095,000 as a line item in our annual budget without your input or a PLAN.

On such a large capital budget, instead of asking the town what they need, a small group of individuals decided a Center was essential for the town and where it should be located. How much consideration was given to other locations? Why not consider a more central location? Why not consider a location closer to where most of the town’s children live? No consideration was given to alternate uses for the fund. Ninigret Park was chosen as a location by a small group as the ideal and only location for the Center. One might ask, “Why Niniget Park? “

If the Community/ Rec/Senior Center is built where the Ninigret Entertainment Center was planned, future use of the Park for musical performances and community events and other summer functions could be greatly reduced and may even be eliminated.

A person at the Council Meeting expressed with conviction that she wanted the Ningret Park dark & quiet. It appears that some council members agree. Some members of the Town Council recently refused to put the request for finishing the electrical work at The Ninigret Park New Pavilion on the agenda for May’s Town Council meeting. Our Town Administrator indicated the request for the $3500 necessary to complete this project had originated from Parks & Rec. If Tim Quillen, a former Parks and Rec Commissioner who worked on the New Pavilion, hadn’t brought it up at the May Town Council Meeting, it would not have been discussed. He said it would only cost $3500. Surprised that this had not already been finished, he even suggested he might personally contribute to finalizing electrification of the Pavilion. It certainly would make the New Pavilion much more useful.

Put 2 and 2 together - reluctance to put electricity at the New Pavilion and proposing a location of the Center that conflicts with space previously determined appropriate for events and you end up with… nothing but Dark and Quiet. No concerts, no live entertainment, no festivals.

I feel broad-based voter input is necessary for such a major expenditure and project. It is your money, not the Town Council’s money. You have the right to choose. On June 3rd your vote counts.

If you want a Park that’s always “Dark & Quiet”, vote to accept the budget with the $3,095,000 line item included. If you don’t vote, the result will probably still be the same.

However, if you want the opportunity to continue enjoying occasional Music, Festivals and other functions with family and friends at Ninigret Park, vote NO.

If you want a more central location for a Community/Rec center to be explored, vote NO.

If you want a say in how our surplus is used, vote NO.

If you are concerned about under funding municipal and police pensions, vote NO.

If you want the $3,095,000 to be used any other way, vote NO.

Most importantly, if you want your voice heard before a decision is made, vote NO.

Tell the Town Council what you want by Voting NO on the budget on June 3rd. Don’t be left in the dark. Keep a light on where your dollars are going. Get involved in the process of determining what’s best for your town by Voting No on June 3rd and make the Town Council draft a revised budget that you can participate in.

Howard Stephens

This letter also appeared in The Westerly Sun on May 25, 2019

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