Citing litter, Travis suggests charging beach fees
Angered by the disregard people have for city beaches, Councilwoman Donna Travis is considering re-implementation of beach fees at Oakland Beach, Buttonwoods and Conimicut.
Travis drafted an ordinance calling for the fees that was slated to come before the council on Monday. Earlier this week, after talking to the mayor, she decided to postpone consideration so that the proposal might be further studied.
This coming Monday two resolutions, one in which the city is requesting assistance from the state to create a funding formula for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and another that would authorize the transfer of $875,000 to the School Department for sports programs, will be discussed.
Mayor Scott 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 beach fees were nearly $12,000, while personnel and other costs totaled about $24,000.
But since fees were eliminated, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, whose ward encompasses Oakland Beach, said littering has become a problem and hopes reinstating the fees will help maintain the integrity of the beaches.
“I’ve found dirty diapers and all kinds of trash all over the place at Oakland Beach,” she said. “People will take better care of the beaches knowing people are watching them.”
Realizing this as an important issue, Avedisian has scheduled a meeting with Travis, Chief of Staff Mark Carruolo and Public Works Director Dave Picozzi to discuss ways to enforce anti-littering laws.
Travis said she originally wanted to open the beach to Warwick residents for free and only charge non-residents but since federal money was used for construction of stone jetties and a boat ramp, it is not an option.
“The beaches are there for everyone, but don’t dump on them and don’t be slobs,” she said. “This is our neighborhood. Why should people walk through the beaches and see them trashed? It’s not right. Let’s try to keep them clean.”
In previous summers, college students were hired to collect beach fees. They were chosen for the city jobs through a lottery and provided uniforms through the city. Five collectors and one supervisor were employed in 2006 and worked from the third Saturday in June to Labor Day. They were on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at all three beaches.
As of 1995, the charge was $2 per car for residents and $3 for nonresidents. Seasonal passes of $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents were also available. If the beach fees are re-implemented, a charge is yet to be determined. Travis is confident Avedisian will include a line item in the parks and recreation budget to cover expenses.
For 2012, Travis said she also hopes to work on erosion issues along the coastline. She said Buttonwoods is a main concern.
“It needs to be addressed because I don’t want trees over there falling down and hurting people,” she said.
Also on the agenda Monday night are two resolutions on behalf of Avedisian put forth by Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono, the first of which asks for assistance from the state in creating a funding formula for RIPTA.
According to Avedisian, the resolution comes from the Sierra Club, a group that advocates for public transportation and the protection of the environment.
“As a member of the RIPTA board of directors, I am keenly aware of the need for a sustainable funding formula for the agency,” he said.
In an e-mail exchange, Avedisian said RIPTA receives funding through the gas 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.
But when the price of gasoline began to rise and the amount of gasoline purchased started to drop, funding for RIPTA also started to decline. As a result, the amount of money coming from the gas tax to RIPTA is substantially lower than before and is leaving RIPTA with a budget deficit. The council seeks to establish a better formula.
The second resolution authorizes the transfer of $875,000 to the School Department for sports programs. It mirrors the resolution Avedisian asked Colantuono to introduce last year.
“It makes good on the promise to fund sports and extra-curricular activities in the school department,” Avedisian said. “Even after a contentious legal battle over school funding, I think the wisest course would be to transfer that money.”
Colantuono said they set aside the funds in the budget and this is merely a mechanism that will allow the transfer. He doesn’t anticipate any issues with the process.
Colantuono strongly supports children participating in sports, as he feels they encourage kids to be more active, increase interaction with one another and improve their confidence, making them better learners both inside and outside the classroom.
“I’m a big believer in team sports and I think they help children socially and emotionally,” said Colantuono. “We need to get kids involved more.”
Further, the council will consider a resolution asking the General Assembly to designate Pontiac Mills as an enterprise zone. Avedisian said he asked Ward 8 Councilman Raymond Gallucci to docket the resolution, as he thinks it will be helpful in order to market the property.
The mayor and the council, along with the Pontiac Village Association, believe the site would make a great location and project for inclusion on the Enterprise Zone Act as an eligible geographic area.
Additionally, an ordinance amending pensions for council members will be up for second passage. Drafted by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, the measure would increase the number of years served from six to 10 in order for council members to be eligible for a pension.
An ordinance relative to a zoning amendment regarding Conimicut Village will also be up for second passage. The village zone aims to promote revitalization and business development in the area.
Finally, as a result of the opposition to an amendment suggested at the Dec. 19 meeting by Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla to the City of Warwick noise ordinance, a resolution to establish a committee to review and revise the ordinance will be discussed Monday. After 40 minutes of testimony at the last meeting, Merolla withdrew the amendment because several business owners, as well as their lawyers, disagreed with it. By the end of the meeting, Vella-Wilkinson docketed a resolution to form a committee to return to the council with recommendations.