Mayor, Council ask legislators to draft new RIPTA funding formula
The City Council, along with Mayor Scott Avedisian, is asking the General Assembly to help create a funding formula for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, or RIPTA.
At last Monday’s City Council meeting, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono introduced the resolution on behalf of Avedisian, which was unanimously approved.
Avedisian, a member of the RIPTA board of directors, said the resolution comes from the Sierra Club, a group that advocates for public transportation and the protection of the environment. He said RIPTA receives funding through the gasoline tax, which is a percentage of every dollar that people spend on gasoline going to the state for transportation projects, including public transportation and road repairs.
However, when the price of gas began to rise and the amount of gas purchased started to drop, funding for RIPTA also started to decline. As a result, gas tax revenues to RIPTA dropped and are leaving RIPTA with a budget deficit.
While Colantuono said the city concern is that citizen ridership is increasing as funding is decreasing, resident Roy Dempsey questioned why Warwick is getting involved. He said RIPTA didn’t “have a good handle” on their budget and it’s inappropriate for the city to be a part of it.
“I don’t know how you can make a favorable opinion that they need more funds,” he said at the meeting.
But, Colantuono told him the council is not telling them they need more funds. Rather, they are requesting that RIPTA examine their funds so they can provide Warwick constituents, as well as state citizens, with the public transportation he feels they need. He noted that RIPTA often transports the elderly, people with disabilities and creates employment opportunities.
“I have no business telling RIPTA they need more or less funding,” Colantuono said. “I’m concerned about our folks who use the system. People rely on RIPTA.”
Another resolution Colantuono sponsored on behalf of Avedisian authorizes the transfer of $875,000 to the School Department for sports programs, which mirrors the resolution Avedisian asked Colantuono to introduce last year. The funds were set aside in the budget and this is merely a mechanism that will allow the transfer, as it was approved.
Moreover, Ward 8 Councilman Raymond Gallucci put forth a resolution on behalf of Avedisian that requests the General Assembly to designate Pontiac Mills as an enterprise zone. He said the three buildings that make up Pontiac Mills, which are on the national record of historical locations, are extensively deteriorated. The point of the resolution is to preserve the buildings.
“If we get a heavy snowstorm, one of those buildings will probably end up collapsing,” Gallucci said at the meeting. “It will probably have to come down. The person who owns them lives in Texas and does not intend to do anything with them.”
Gallucci said he recently met with a company that is trying to sell the property for the owner. Chief of Staff Mark Carruolo said the site is designated by the state as a focus area for economic development.
Also, Carruolo informed the assembly that there are three prime benefits to the property, including earning income tax credits for employees hired; a possibility of a waiver of sales tax to develop the property; plus expedited permitting at the state level, as it is located on the Pawtuxet River and there are sensitive environmental aspects. These types of zones are typically moved to the front of the line at DEM and other state agencies for the permit approval process.
Further, an ordinance to reinstate beach fees for Oakland Beach, Conimicut and Buttonwoods, which was sponsored by Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, was held until the Feb. 13 meeting. It was slated to come before the council last week, but after talking to Avedisian, Travis decided to postpone action for further study.
Avedisian recommended revoking beach fees in 2007, as department directors reviewed ways to cut expenditures and learned that revenues were approximately half the cost of running the seasonal program. In 2006, revenues collected through the fees were nearly $12,000, while personnel and other costs totaled about $24,000.
But, since fees were eliminated, Travis said littering has become a problem. She has seen dirty diapers and trash scattered on the beach, as well as in parking lots, and hopes reinstating the fees will help keep the beaches clean.
Also, an ordinance relative to traffic and safety improvement measures in and around Greenwood Elementary School reached second passage, with Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J” Donovan authoring the ordinance.
Donovan worked with Greenwood School, as well as the police and fire departments, to better ensure the protection of children as they are entering and exiting the property.
The ordinance prohibits parking on both sides of Greenwood Avenue in the area surrounding the school from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Parking will also be banned from 8 to 9 a.m.
Principal Dennis Winn attended the Dec. 12 meeting and spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying 150 to 175 children walk on Greenwood Avenue at dismissal time. He believes the ordinance will increase safety, especially in winter months when the road is narrowed from snow.
Further, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson put forth a resolution to improve the city website. She said that while it’s an award-winning site, she thinks doing research on legislations could be more user-friendly and suggested including the PCO or PCR number; identifying the sponsor; providing the hyperlink to the verbiage, as well as the voting record; and listing whether or not the mayor signed it.
“The purpose of this resolution is to have one-stop-shopping on the website, with regards to ordinances and resolutions,” Vella-Wilkinson said at the meeting. “I believe it would be something residents would enjoy and be very useful to us as legislatures, as well.”
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon pointed out that the website already offers most of this information when he said, “There’s always been a location for this.”
Still, he voted in favor of it.
In an interview Thursday morning, Vella-Wilkinson said while many of the items are already listed, she feels the changes will make it easier for people to locate information by lessening the steps to find the information online or save people the trouble from making a trip to City Hall and requesting the documentation.
“This is easy access,” she said.
Finally, a resolution in regards to the installation of a yield sign at the intersection of Lakedell Drive and Rosedale Road was approved, while a resolution to install a stop sign at the intersection of Beachwood Drive and Rosedale Road was withdrawn, as Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla said research indicated it was not needed.