Newcomer challenges council veteran in Ward 6 face-off
Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis is seeking her 10th term as a Democrat, and her opponent, Republican Catharine Leach, is looking to land a seat on the council for the first time.
In an interview that took place nearly three weeks ago, Travis said she decided to give it another go because she’s interested in holding the line on taxes, completing projects she has initiated, as well as pursing new ones, while Leach is mostly focused on taxes.
“The biggest thing is taxes; everybody is complaining about taxes,” Leach said during an interview last week. “We do have a considerable amount of homeowners in my ward, and the most common complaint is having to pay property taxes. Some people are looking to either move out of the city or completely move out of the state. It’s hurting everyone right now.”
Additionally, Leach said the car tax has also left a lot of people “sour.” If elected, she hopes to repeal the tax, which she views as burdensome.
“That’s the second biggest thing I’ve been hearing, especially since a lot of people in my ward all have [older vehicles],” she said. “In this tough economy, it’s another strain to your pocketbook. I think the way we value vehicles in Rhode Island is unfair and I don’t mind paying my fair share in taxes – I have two kids in the public school system – but it has to be fair and nobody has a 13-year-old car that’s in clean condition, and that’s how we’re valuing them now.”
Also, she doesn’t have much faith in the appeal process.
“You can’t win,” said Leach.
Travis agrees that car taxes are excessive. While she voted in favor of reducing the exemption from $6,000 to $500 to raise an additional $8 million in revenues last year, she said the way vehicles are valued isn’t “fair.”
“I was one of the first ones to say, ‘I don’t want the car tax because I can’t afford it,’” she said. “My husband bought a truck and we had to pay more for the taxes than we did for the truck. A lot of this has to go back to our state senators and reps. They have to get more in tune with local government. We need them to listen to us when we’re yelling about car taxes and formulas and different issues.”
Aside from car taxes, Travis wants to finish what she’s started.
“There have been a lot of things on the burner and they are coming to a head now,” she said.
Issues involve Greenwich Bay, boat ramps and beach fees. First, she’d like to readdress the “serious problem” with Brush Neck Cove, which borders Oakland Beach and Buttonwoods. According to Travis, studies have been done showing significant erosion. She wants it cleaned properly.
“It’s just a basic dredging maintenance or we’re just going to have muck there,” Travis said. “The erosion on the coastline of Buttonwoods is out of control. We’ve got to make sure CRMC, DEM and all those agencies live up to what they say. I have to have serious meetings with all those agencies, and that’s one of the top priorities of 2013.”
Further, she’s not thrilled that as a result excess sand makes using the public handicapped-accessible boat ramp there nearly impossible to use.
“They were supposed to maintain the jetties every five years with dredging, and they didn’t do it,” said Travis. “Sand is filling in the boat ramp, and I have to have Public Works go down and clean it.”
As for beach fees, Travis would like to see them reinstated at Oakland Beach, Buttonwoods and Conimicut. Earlier this year, she drafted an ordinance to reinstate the fees but ended up withdrawing it after meeting with Mayor Scott Avedisian and members of his administration.
In 2006 revenues collected through the fees were nearly $12,000, while personnel and other costs totaled about $24,000. For this reason, Avedisian recommended revoking the fees the following year.
But sine then, said Travis, littering has become quite a problem. She thinks reinstating the fees will help keep the beaches clean.
“I withdrew it because the mayor came to the conclusion that he was going to put extra help in the Oakland Beach area, but it’s still a problem and [Department of Public Works Acting Director] Dave Picozzi would agree,” said Travis. “There’s garbage everywhere. Sometimes it’s the wind or the seagulls, but it is a mess. It has to be addressed again. People eat on the sea wall and leave their trash.”
Leach is in agreement. She said many constituents have been complaining to her that there is too much trash on the beaches. As a remedy, she’s hoping to assemble a volunteer task force for monthly clean-ups.
At the moment, the Oakland Beach Association, which Travis is a member of, performs biannual cleanups.
“Maybe we could get local businesses in the area to pitch in and donate for the task force so it’s not burdening our taxpayers,” Leach said. “I know people are willing to do it because I’ve presented this idea to a lot of people and they are all for it. I have neighbors that go and clean it up themselves. When they go for their morning walk they are picking up garbage.”
Additionally, Leach, who lives in close proximity to the beach, said she has witnessed fights amongst teenagers break out at the beach. As a parent, it causes great concern for her.
“I bring my kids there and I don’t want them exposed to that,” she said. “You don’t want anything to get out of hand, so I think maybe more patrols down there would be good.”
Another issue both candidates agree on is education, as well as the poor condition of many local schools.
“Education is a priority,” Travis said. “And I’m also talking about mold and other things that need to be addressed. I’m not picking on the school department, but I want to make sure the schools are safe and healthy for kids.”
Leach feels the same.
“Not a lot of the city’s income is going towards the schools,” she said. “My constituents want to make sure the money is staying in the schools and that it doesn’t get any less. They’d like to see it above 2008 levels again.”
Further, they share similar opinions about T.F. Green Airport. Travis said she’s happy a conclusion has been reached; she’s just concerned about the relocation of the ball fields.
“I had no problem when we were talking about putting them at CCRI, but I don’t think the fields should be near the airport,” she said. “They are talking about putting them near Lake Shore Drive, and I have a serious problem with kids playing in the fields, breathing that air. They had no problem saying they wanted to move the homes away from the airport, so why put children playing near it? And I would like them to state that they won’t fly after a certain time at night. That would be nice. It impacts my people.”
As far as the ball fields, Leach concurs.
“A lot of the parents, including me, are members of the Warwick Fire Fighters Soccer Club,” Leach said. “They are hoping that the field is still going to be close by and be just as good or better. They are hoping for something with more ample parking, too.”
Further, Leach is highly in favor of bringing compassion centers to Rhode Island. As long as they have their doctors’ blessing, she said, people have the right to treat their ailments accordingly.
“I’m totally in support of medical marijuana,” she said. “If their doctor is saying, ‘This is less harmful than prescription medications,’ then I’m all for it.”
Leach also views it as a way to cut down on crime and provide legal users a safe venue to access the drug. She doesn’t believe they should have to visit dangerous areas to buy it from drug dealers.
Moreover, she thinks the establishment of compassion centers poses great potential for economic development, job growth and tax revenue for both the city and the state. While admitting to using marijuana for medicinal reasons in the past, Leach said she hasn’t used since August.
Travis doesn’t have a problem with marijuana for medical purposes, yet said individuals who are using it recreationally are breaking the law and must be dealt with accordingly.
For Travis, focusing on the quality of life for residents is essential. From speeding to regular road maintenance, public safety is paramount.
“I’ve always worked closely with the police and fire department and strongly believe in public safety,” said Travis. “The police can’t be everywhere and we do have crime watches, but people have to respect other people in their neighborhoods.”
Travis, who grew up in Oakland Beach, volunteers on multiple organizations and boards, some of which she’s served on for more than 25 years.
“I’m a working board member,” she said. “I don’t do something unless I give 100 percent.”
Leach was born in Woonsocket and spent most of her life in Lincoln before moving to the East Side of Providence for a decade. She has lived in Warwick for two years.