It was a mixed bag for spending requests at Monday’s Narragansett Town Council meeting, as two requests from the police and fire departments were approved, while others by the town administrator and public works department were rejected.
One of those proposals – $29,980 for a kitchen and break room improvements at the town hall – drew harsh criticism from the council. Councilor David Crook called it “one of the most controversial things I’ve heard,” based on e-mails from constituents and talks with staff.
“Surprisingly, [the criticism has] been from people who could use this,” he said.
Clarifying the request, Town Administrator Grady Miller said that the town hall had never had an actual kitchen. He viewed it as a way to improve and maintain the morale of staff, and to allow the town hall to host functions.
“As you know, the room has not been updated in 40 years,” he said, adding that the break rooms for other departments do have full kitchens. “The point on this is that it’s $30,000, it’s a one-time investment, and hopefully we’ll get another 40 years out of it.”
In response, Crook said, “They will not use this thing. The money could be better spent.”
Miller said that about $2,500 had already been spent on appliances, since the initial assumption was that public works employees could do some simple plumbing and electrical work to upgrade the room. However, further investigating revealed that more extensive work was needed to upgrade the break room.
Council president Glenna Hagopian criticized Miller for even buying the appliances.
“The feedback I’ve gotten, Grady, is that it was presumptuous to do any destruction or buy any appliances before coming before the council,” she said. “At this point, this is too much, especially at this time.”
Councilor Chris Wilkens said that while he did think it was time to upgrade the break room, he viewed the price tag as too much.
“I think something should be done about the room myself,” he said. “It is not in good condition. But I think something could be done about the price tag. It seems a bit much.”
The council failed the spending request by a 4-1 vote, with councilor Susan Cicilline-Buonanno the lone vote for the motion. However, Wilkens and others said they would consider a smaller proposal in the future if brought before them.
Crook also expressed reservations about another spending request, $100,475 for four police vehicles. However, he ultimately voted with his other councilors to approve the expenditures, along with another $13,326.42 for data systems for two of the new cruisers.
“I don’t think this is the time to buy four new cars,” he said initially. “I just don’t think it’s the time and the place to spend that kind of money … At this time, I just don’t think it’s financially feasible.”
Hagopian also expressed reservations about the purchases, but added that the supplemental report submitted by Narragansett Police Chief Dean Hoxsie swayed her.
“For this, I think Dean did a great job summarizing the conditions of the cars,” she said. “I think these guys have gotten all they can out of the cars.”
According to Hoxsie’s report, the replaced cars have mileage of 131,275, 140,849 and 154,615. The fourth new vehicle, a Ford Fusion, would be used as a fuel-efficient administrative car instead of relying on a patrol car.
Miller said that in the future, he was asking all department heads to prepare similar reports for large expenditures.
Wilkens added, “One of these cars is on its third engine, and its second transmission. It’s already been budgeted for. It’s an appropriation we’ve been expecting.”
The council also unanimously approved $37,198 for a pick-up truck with a snowplow for the fire department.
Initially, Crook said that he had heard that the fire department didn’t need a truck with a plow on it, since they regularly lent it out to the public works department for plowing. He suggested that the department go out for bid again for a truck without a plow.
However, Narragansett Fire Chief James Cotter refuted this.
“I don’t know how much cheaper I can get this, David,” he said. “We use this truck for plowing ourselves. We’ve had storms where we get rescue calls … We don’t depend on the highway departments for plowing.”
After Cotter’s remarks, the council approved his request.
The council continued discussion of two other spending requests, for another snowplow truck and a new dump truck, to its next regular meeting.
We’ll have a full roundup of the council meeting later today. Click the follow-up link below to be notified when it is posted.