Solomon wants more answers on $4.3M school bond; council looks to regulate junk cars
The City Council was slated to vote on a resolution Monday that would authorize the issuance of $4,295,000 in bonds for fire code improvements to eight schools but postponed action per the request of Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon.
Also, the council spoke in depth about an ordinance that would prohibit unregistered vehicles in residential areas, although its sponsor, Ward 2 Councilman Tom Chadronet, was not in attendance. Both pieces of legislation have been held until the Feb. 20 meeting.
On Monday, Solomon said he would like to see a detailed fiscal note prepared and included in the bond legislation before he casts a vote.
“I don’t have that information in my packet,” he said. “I’m asking for specific items.”
The specific items include: the cost of the issuance of the bond; how the funds will be utilized; and whether or not Warwick residents will be the guarantors of the bonds or if it will be paid for by funds through the School Department. He also requested to have a member of the School Committee come before the council at the next meeting.
“I want a fiscal note before I vote on it so we can question the financial expenditures on behalf of the taxpayers,” Solomon said.
Council President Donna Travis pointed out that many of his questions had already been answered during the finance meeting that took place before the council gathered in council chambers.
In that meeting, Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski noted that in 2006 voters approved a $25 million bond for school improvements. He said $16.8 million remains to be issued, and that the city is going to be borrowing through the Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation. In order to be eligible for housing aid reimbursement, Zmyslinski said, all municipalities must use it as a financial mechanism.
“I believe we are eligible for 35 percent reimbursement,” he said.
Warwick Schools Business Manager Anthony Ferrucci said a majority of the funds will be used for fire code updates in eight schools, including Robertson, Lippitt, Sherman, Greenwood, Wyman, Drum Rock, Veterans Memorial and Toll Gate.
“This is the second phase of a three-phase project; the first phase took place this past summer,” he said, noting that phase three will take place in the summer of 2014.
He went on to say that the Short Term Facilities Committee has been reviewing the possibility of closing either Gorton or Aldrich.
Council sets sights on junk cars
The council also focused on junked, abandoned or dismantled vehicles in residential areas.
The issue first came to light a few months ago when former council president Bruce Place docketed the ordinance. He, along with other council members, have received complaints from residents who say their neighbors bring junked vehicles home and that the vehicle sits in the yard creating an eyesore. The cars never have inspection stickers, and owners are often stripping them and using them for scrap value.
“By the time [officers] get through giving their notices, that car is gone but another one shows up,” said John Harrington, solicitor to the council. “People take the position, ‘Well, you already sited me for that, not this new one, and I’m fixing this car up.’ There’s language drafted in this now that says you can’t do that.”
Harrington said a recent meeting was held with members of the property maintenance office, as well as Lt. Michael Gilbert of the Warwick Police Department, who also attended Monday’s council meeting. Harrington said they discovered that there were references to abandoned or junked vehicles “all over the place” in the code of ordinances, some of which were more detailed than others.
The intent, Harrington said, is to delete duplicate references and add language that would tighten the law, making it easier for officers to enforce. As it reads now, the owner shall remove the vehicle(s) within 10 days. Gilbert suggested deleting the 10-day provision and recommended a timeframe of either 72 hours or two business days. The council agreed on 72 hours.
“We’re just trying to close some of the loopholes,” said Gilbert, who explained that the WPD, the mayor’s office and council members began receiving an outpouring of complaints shortly after “I Buy Junk Cars” flyers were spotted posted on telephone poles throughout the city. Residents said neighbors would bring home one junked car after another.
“It was a revolving door of cars,” Gilbert said. “Each and every time it’s like a brand new offense. It’s not going to be the case for the person who has a classic car that they want to restore; it’s more for chronic offenders. We’ve warned them and asked them nicely. It goes away for a while and then keeps popping back up like a weed.”
If approved, Gilbert said the legislation would give the WPD the ability to site violators almost on a first offense basis. Officers would be able to issue the violator a notice, document that notice, and if complaints continue and it is not rectified within the appropriate timeframe, the WPD can site them again and take it to court, eliminating the need for minimum housing to send the violator a letter.
“Let a judge make the determination,” Gilbert said.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur questioned if landlords or property owners would be protected from liabilities. Gilbert said there’s a civil action for that now, and that property owners legally have the right to remove a vehicle from land they own.
But Ladouceur said the dilemma with giving the landlord the right to tow the vehicle comes in when the tow company needs to be paid. Gilbert said they make reasonable efforts to contact the owner, and if the owner never comes forth in a reasonable timeframe, they can take possession of the car and make the money in scrap.
But Ladouceur said that brings him back to his original question: if it’s not registered or inspected, can the police tow it? Gilbert assured him the answer is “yes.”
Ladouceur also asked about watercrafts being left on residential areas, as did Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who said a boat recently was left on residential property in her ward.
“The people moved to East Greenwich, filled the boat with garbage, including a commode also filled with garbage, and just left it on the front lawn,” she said. “The city had to have it towed.”
By the end of the meeting, she announced plans to draft legislation about boats and other watercraft being abandoned on residential areas. Ladouceur will co-sponsor the legislation.