NORTH SMITHFIELD – Grants totaling more than $22 million for the town of North Smithfield are up for consideration by the federal appropriations committee, including one that could fully fund a new police station, according to Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski.
Zwolenski delivered the promising news – although far from a sure thing – to members of the Town Council at their meeting on Monday, May 15.
“We’ve been notified that four grants are moving forward,” Zwolenski said. “It does not guarantee it will be funded.”
The administrator noted that the town applied for federal money to fund construction of a new station last year, but the proposal was turned down. Councilors have been debating specifics of the long-hoped-for project for months, with a bond question to fund much needed construction – or rehabilitation – of a facility expected to go before voters within the year.
Chief Tim Lafferty completed a new federal grant application for the project this year, and this time around, it seems it has support from the state’s federal delegation, led by Sen. Jack Reed.
Zwolenski said he received news that Reed was moving four projects forward for consideration in a letter last week.
Now, the North Smithfield’s requests will be among the projects amounting to billions in federal dollars looked at by the appropriations committee, in a process that is supposed to be completed by June, but typically takes much longer. In recent years, a more realistic deadline for federal appropriations decisions has been October 1.
“They can champion the town of North Smithfield,” Zwolenski said of the state delegates.
Still, he noted, “Nothing is guaranteed here.”
The station is the largest of the four potential grants.
Also under consideration is a grant of $1.410,000 to help finance a water line extension on St. Paul Street. The town was approved for a $1.2 million grant for that project last year, but more is needed to fully fund water improvements to the area.
“This could not come at a better time,” Zwolenski said. “EPA is going to mandate changing the copper lines.”
Another $1 million grant could help fund improvements to the property that once held Halliwell Elementary School.
And finally, a $30,000 grant now under consideration would provide radio equipment for the North Smithfield Emergency Management Agency.
“It may be scaled back. It may not be approved,” said Zwolenski. “But it’s an honor to have Senator Reed push this forward for consideration.”
Councilors, who have spent months looking for ways to scale back police station plans to make the bond more appealing to voters, reacted with enthusiasm.
“That’s fantastic news,” said Councilor Douglas Osier. “If it does go through, then it’s no tax dollars that are spent.”
Efforts to create a bond question in the meantime, however, will move forward, since the funding is far from guaranteed. Osier questioned if language on the ballot should reflect the potential positive news – and was told it should not.
“Right now, this is a promise to take a look at it,” Zwolenski said. “I don’t want to convolute or confuse the voters.”
“If we get a federally funded new police station, I’m sure they would want to go that route,” Councilor John Beauregard said of voters.
Beauregard noted that is was Lisa Andoscia of Rosewood Consulting who applied for the potential $1.4 million in funding for water lines and the $1 million for Halliwell. Andoscia was hired on a temporary basis for one month in February at a cost of $5,000 in order to meet the deadline for the two grant applications.
Councilors have been somewhat critical of the administration for what they have said was lack of communication on the temporary hiring. Several said learned of the initiative from an article on NRI NOW.
An effort to retain Andoscia on a more permanent basis has since been slowed down, with councilors only recently approving a request for proposals for potential applicants for a grant writer position, rather than accepting the idea for hiring first put forth by Beauregard after hearing of her success.
“I’d say that’s $5,000 well spent,” Beauregard said Monday of the possible $2.4 million.
For now, at least, with a major boost to needed projects possibly on the horizon, it was time for optimism.
“Let’s try to be positive,” Zwolenski said.