Assembly delegation sponsors bill for $18 million police station ballot question in North Smithfield

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Council President Kimberly Alves and Councilor Paulette Hamilton

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Legislation authorizing the town of North Smithfield to put a question before voters in November seeking permission to borrow up to $18 million to finance a new or renovated police station has been sponsored by the town’s delegation, and is now ready to go before the full General Assembly for likely approval.

The long-debated initiative continued to move forward this week in a split Town Council vote, despite ongoing concerns expressed by two members of the board.

House bill 6451 and companion Senate bill 1074 would authorize, “the town of North Smithfield to finance the development and construction of a new police station or the renovation, improvement, alteration and repair of an existing building to be used as a police station, as determined by the town council and the furnishing and equipping thereof by the issue of not more than $18,000,000 of bonds and/or notes therefor.”

The bills, crafted by the North Smithfield’s bond counsel, were sponsored by Reps. Brian Newberry and Jon Brien, and Sens. Jessica de la Cruz, Thomas Paolino and Melissa Murray, upon request from councilors.

“This was drafted after your meeting,” explained Solicitor David Igliozzi, referencing the board’s vote on Tuesday, May 23.

Igliozzi noted that both bills were introduced and referred to their respective finance committees, to be held awaiting approval of language by town councilors.

The vote to continue the process, and ask the General Assembly to move forward with the ballot language, passed by a council vote of 3-2, with President Kimberly Alves joining Councilor Paulette Hamilton in opposition to the plan.

“I think it’s difficult for people to understand what they’re voting on, the way the ballot question is written,” said Hamilton Thursday. Plus, she added, “We don’t have a definitive impact yet on what the cost will be to voters.”

Hamilton had spoken in favor of putting multiple questions on the ballot, offering voters a potential choice between renovation and new construction. That plan was ultimately scrapped in May after Paul Vadenais, head of the Municipal Building Review Task Force spearheading the police station project, said the two options came with similar price tags – with renovation of the current Smithfield Road building estimated at around $17.5 million.

Vadenais said the town should seek voter authority to spend money on the initiative, rather than wait and have costs continue to escalate, with final details of the plan still to be hashed out.

“If it fails for whatever reason in the configuration that it’s currently documented, then we have to start from scratch,” Hamilton said of the question, now slated for General Assembly approval to be placed on a special election ballot, as required by state law. “Our police department deserves better than that.”

The former town administrator added, “I don’t think it’s the best time in the economy to be doing something like this.”

Councilor Claire O’Hara, who has been among those sitting through dozens of meetings trying to reach consensus on a plan, responded, “We’ve been commenting on this for what, six, seven years now? If you think this country is ever going to get that better in this short a time, you must live on another planet than I do. Economically, I think for the general mental health and physical well-being of this country, we’ve been waiting for so long.”

“We’re going to have a good storm and the police are going to be in tents somewhere,” O’Hara added.

While specifics – such as the cost and when to hold the election – continue to divide councilors, no one has disputed the urgency of the issue. Little has been done over the years to maintain the aging former schoolhouse that currently serves as N.S. police headquarters, and last year, the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust threatened to drop the town’s insurance coverage on the property if safety hazards were not addressed.

Councilor Douglas Osier, who, in the past, has often aligned with Hamilton and Alves on votes, said he has looked at how a bond of up to $18 million would affect town finances.

“Everyone would agree we need to do something there,” said Osier of the station, noting that the town has more than enough borrowing capacity not to affect its bond rating.

Osier said he believes the council should continue to seek clarity on costs and impact – while also taking the needed steps to move forward.

“This project should be fully transparent. I think we need to set a new standard there,” said Osier. “But we need to address our aging infrastructure. We maintain our schools – we need to do so in the other services we provide.”

Alves said she’s opposed to putting the question before voters at a special election, which typically has a far lower turnout.

“This is a decision that you need to have at a general election, preferably a presidential election,” Alves said. “I think we’re going to have fewer voters, and we’re going to have such a big decision decided.”

The council president noted the $18 million bond could pass with as few as 300 votes.

“Everyone else is going to be stuck with that price tag,” she said.

Further, she added, “It’s a lot of money.”

Councilor John Beauregard noted that the town plans to advertise and perform extensive public outreach. The special election, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 7 of this year, is already slated to fill the vacancy in Rhode Island’s first congressional district seat created by the resignation of Congressman David Ciccilline.

“If you don’t vote and it passes, you only have yourself to blame,” Beauregard said.

Alves said she’s spoken to many in town unaware of the plan despite the years of conversation.

“How are they going to come out and vote if people don’t know about it?” Alves asked.

Of the potential to get federal funding to pay for the building, councilors agreed it’s a “long shot.”

Osieir pointed out that if the town waits another year, there will be a new council election, which could mean starting the process over once again to bring newcomers up to speed.

Beauregard said he believes the current plan has the support of most residents.

“The comments that I have been receiving have been very positive for this,” Beauregard said. “I think the general public is in favor of this.”

“I know there’s some social media where everybody jumps on it, but you’ve got to negate that,” he added. “You’ve got to listen to what the people out there are saying – not the people on their keyboards. Forget the noise on social media.”

“The voters need to decide on this. We have to at least start here,” said Osier, adding of the architects designing the building, who have continued to offer redesigns at council request, “I think we can push back on Tecton further.”

“We need to address that building, first and foremost,” Osier added. “There are still options. and maybe there’s other funding options out there that we’re not aware of right now.”

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19 COMMENTS

  1. A quick heads up to commenters: If you commented yesterday and your post is missing, it is not because we deleted it. We experienced some technical difficulties and had to restore a slightly older version of the website, and your post may have been lost in the shuffle. We apologize for the inconvenience and are grateful for your patience.

  2. As I have been saying for years, a few fiscally irresponsible town leaders will bring you all the “Taj Mahal” of police stations and drive up all our taxes. They have been planning this for years and now have the pathway cleared. If you are all truly concerned with the costs and how this all came about “vote No”, come the fall and make them revert to the original renovate plan that was approved. It’s also time to lose Vadnais, Beauregard, and Zwolenski as town leaders, maybe Ozier too.

  3. Some may believe simply reviewing when existing bond payments will be paid in full can be referred to as an “analysis”, but it does NOT equate to a true analysis of the impact a bond payment will have on the tax rate. It’s just one of many factors which need to be considered. The Town will be losing significant revenues and facing much higher operating costs in the near future. A five year forecast of projected revenues and expenditures must be considered before determining whether or not a bond payment is truly affordable. By state law, that forecast should have been done in November but wasn’t. The 5 year forecast is essential in order to determine whether or not the Town will continue to generate sufficient revenue to make bond payments AND continue to adequately fund operating budgets without outrageously high tax increases. Councilperson Osier’s assertion that the Town has plenty of borrowing power is frightening to say the least, and far from being fiscally responsible. It brings to mind the person who applies for multiple credit cards just because credit cards are offered and approved easily. Many people fall into this trap and begin using the cards to support a lifestyle above their means and eventually learn they can no longer make their payments AND put food on their table for the family. Osier, Beauregard and O’Hara are rushing to push forward without first doing their due diligence, and reflect the actions of the guy who used credit cards with no worries and found himself unable to pay the food bills. Councilors Alves and Hamilton aren’t just using the catch phrase of “being fiscally responsible and doing due diligences”, they’re actually doing both, by voting against putting the cart before the horse.

    • Can you expand on exactly what “significant revenue and higher operating costs “ you are referring to. How come you are the only one who knows about this ?

      Also, Kim and Paulette aren’t making your same argument. They are saying it’s “not fair” to hold this vote in a special election. Nice try being the 6th alternate council member.

      • Jimmy, if you had an financial experience and looked at the town’s revenue you would see the decrease in National Grid revenue. As far as higher operating expenses we have inflation, excessive union raises, rising medical benefit costs, and deferred maintenance costs. This is what happens when you support union politicians, they have no idea or concern for tax increases or the taxpayer.

        • Thanks for explaining to Jimmy(aka John B) the financial concerns. It hasn’t even dawned on John that the Senior Center won’t operate without an operating budget. He also hasn’t read the newest RIPEC report. Kim and Paulette have been pushing for a forecast that shows the loss of National Grid’s tangible tax revenue but it seems nobody employed by the town can figure out what that loss will be. No doubt at some point, they’ll realize we’re so far behind on road repaving, we’ll need to take out a bond for roads. Osier and Beauregard aren’t worried because the town has plenty of borrowing power and retiring debt. They actually think it’s going to be that simple. I don’t believe either one of them expressed concern about the ability of seniors living on fixed incomes being taxed out of their homes. John apparently didn’t hear the senior citizens who expressed those concerns at the previous meeting since he claims everyone he talks to is for a Taj Mahal. Osier is focusing on espousing his political rhetoric ( fiscally responsible, due diligence, etc ) in his quest to be elected the next Town Administrator to actually be fiscally responsible and practice due diligence. Thankfully at least Kim and Paulette have common sense and are logical.

          • Wrong again genius. Jimmy Tessier isn’t me and neither is JP1165. Unlike your friend Boob Simpson I don’t hide behind a fake name. For someone who portrays himself as being the smartest man in town you sure do get a lot wrong.

            • John, as long as people are allowed to comment using a bogus name it’s easy to for you and others to make the claim of “Jimmy Tessier isn’t me…” It’s just as easy for one of your friends to now claim he or she wrote the comment and not you. I don’t portray myself as the smartest man in town; you mock everyone who watches the meetings, reads documents and argues with facts. As to which one of us is wrong more often that right, I’ll debate you in a public forum on that point anytime. LOL

              • If you have no proof of something you claim, you should keep your mouth shut until you do. I never mock anyone who argues with facts. I mock people who make baseless claims against me and anyone else that have nothing to do with facts. You however, encourage and take part in that behavior. Have you ever said to anyone on your page something like, hey I’m not a fan of that person either but maybe you shouldn’t say those things unless you can prove it. Or let’s keep the name calling out of this. Never, because it’s more than half of the comments made on your page it’s red meat and gets your regulars riled up, they love it. Not to mention you are the one most guilty of doing it. In your attempt to be a citizen advocate you created a hate filled attack page. And that’s why you lost so much credibility with people in N. Smithfield. It’s not because you are wrong, which you are quite a bit, it’s because of your methods. You can tell a lot about a person by who their friends are but you can tell more about them by who their enemies are. And Mike, you are enemies with some really good and respectable people in this town. They can’t all be wrong.

                • I don’t want to delete anything, but this comment thread has gone well outside focusing on the issue and is becoming personal on both sides. All can consider this a warning that we have boundaries in place prohibiting personal attacks.

                • Like I said, I’m ready for that debate about which one of us is wrong more often than right anytime John. Tell me why you haven’t spent any significant money on repairs to the current police station since 2016. Why haven’t you challenged the validity and accuracy of the other statements I’ve made in the comment above?

  4. From reading this article I am suppose to believe the Paul Vadenais is an engineer and finance professional who can easily estimate the cost of renovating the current facility. What is Paul’s education and background to make these assessments. Then I am also lead to believe that Doug Osier is an accountant and CPA who has experience and training in determining what the town can afford. Doug can you provide your multi year plan and projections of all of the towns spending needs over the next 10 years and how you arrived at your conclusion. Please include a detailed multi year capital plan and bond amortization schedule. I don’t think anyone has done that analysis. But Beauregard said he believes the current plan has the support of most residents. I would like to see who John’s poled, the sample size, and the demographics of his sample group. It always amazes me on how politicians can make multi million dollar decisions with zero analysis. In the business I have been a part, we would analyze multiple scenarios and sensitivity’s before making any decision at that level. Why we do the analysis is to avoid making the wrong decision that could bankrupt the business. But this is what we get from politicians who never worked in a for profit job or had to worry about the bottom line. Aka no consequences for a bad decisions. Just had to have the union rep ask for a large salary increase with no concern where the money comes from.

    • As the author, I can tell you that “from the article,” you are not supposed to think any of those things. As mentioned, this project has been under discussion and debate for many years, with designs, cost estimations and redesigns done by a professional architecture firm. Mr. Vadenais is just the head of the board that has worked toward providing that information and recommendation. Not speaking to the wisdom, quality, accuracy or any other element (or lack thereof) of the plan – just offering clarity. Also, there most definitely has been analysis done regarding the bond schedule. I don’t have that information at the moment, but much of this has been gone over (and over) at public meetings through the past several years.

    • I loved the comment by JB, to not listen to those on their keyboards! But rather the others out there.

      I would think that those keyboard enthusiasts are the very ones that do the most research and reading….seeing they ARE on the keyboard to easily access all the info. To make better informed decisions. Just my two cents.

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