EAST PROVIDENCE — For the time being, the East Providence City Council at its meeting Tuesday night, April 1, voted down by a 3-2 margin a proposed $19 million bond ordinance aimed at improving the distressed water system.
For various reasons, though mostly due to questions about the actual cost of the project, Councilors Tommy Rose, Chrissy Rossi and Helder Cunha cast their lots in opposition to the proposal while their counterparts Jim Briden and Tracy Capobianco were in approval of the plan.
Nearly three hours of testimony from and questions aimed at Public Works Director Steve Coutu and Water Utilities Manager Jim Marvel as well as supporting chatter from Acting City Manager Paul Lemont wasn’t enough to convince the trio opposed to support the ordinance, which would have seen the construction of a new storage tank and treatment plant at the current Kent Heights locations and the installation of a 20-inch flow pipe.
Mr. Rose was the most adamant in his refusal to accept the proposal on its face, claiming it was well under-budgeted and did not do enough to replace dated pipes in the system.
Mrs. Rossi asked for a “written guarantee” that the plan to construct the new tank, estimated to cost approximately $11 million, would not go over budget.
Mr. Cunha’s reluctance to support the matter came from concerns about the “11th hour” timing of the proposal and the significant sum.
In attempting to alleviate Mr. Cunha’s trepidation, Mr. Lemont said these matters were at the top of his to-do list when he left the City Manager position back in 2003 and that a lack of leadership during the ensuing years led to this point.
Mr. Lemont also noted upon returning to the manager’s position four months ago the first conversation he had with Mr. Coutu about the state of Public Works included the ordinance in question and that it took until this time to put all the proper elements into place.
“The time has come. We can afford to play around anymore,” Mr. Lemont said. “I understand the cost, but if we delay, delay, delay we’re going to end up with a real mess on our hands.”
Mr. Marvel, likewise, said he has been working on the matter since coming to city back in 2005. He said the ordinance would “benefit the health and safety of the people” of East Providence.
He, Mr. Lemont and Mr. Coutu each noted while there wasn’t enough money to overhaul all of the dated pipes in the system, the worst would be fixed with the remaining monies from the ordinance and the rest would be taken care of once the enterprise fund associated with the system was back in the black.
Mr. Marvel also said the city is likely headed towards eventually being fined down the line by state agencies for its poor water quality, adding the ordinance is an attempt to “avoid a catastrophic failure” of the system or “long-term health issues” related to the matter.
While the ordinance could be revisited in the future, Mr. Marvel said due to time constraints pertaining to procuring the necessary approvals from governmental agencies it almost certainly needed to be approved this week for the city to avoid any action against it because of the poor water quality.
In addition to voting down the bond ordinance, the Council also tabled another proposal that would increase water rates and initiate a yearly fixed meter charge. That ordinance has nothing to do with the water system per se, rather it is intended to plug a $1.5 million budgetary shortfall.
Mrs. Rossi asked Municipal Finance Advisor Paul Luba to come up with a proposal with a “bare minimum” increase to users in time for the Council’s next meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, April 15.
Most of the other happenings of note occurred during the public comments section of the meeting earlier in the evening.
International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 569 Vice President Paul Rodrigues, as a couple of his peers did at each of the last two Council meetings, once again expressed the East Providence Police officers’ union opposition to the status of Chief Joseph Tavares.
“The relationship between the chief of police and our members can not be repaired,” Officer Rodrigues said.
In regard to responses given by the chief to questions about the loss of a federal grant for a new boat and other matters, Officer Rodrigues added, “(The chief’s) answers at best were very inaccurate and warrant further inquiry.”
As resident Tony Ruben did two weeks ago, Tom Riley voiced his opposition to a proposal from the police department regarding the installation of traffic light cameras. Mr. Riley concurred with Mr. Ruben’s thoughts that the tickets would be another form of unnecessary taxation. He also said it would not increase the safety.
Resident Freddy Rybka and Mr. Lemont had a terse exchange, the latter charging the former with “nepotism” in the rehiring Ed Serowick Sr. and Jr. to maintain the Looff Carousel at Crescent Park. Of course, Mr. Rybka meant to charge cronyism, but Mr. Lemont did not take kindly to the inference regardless. The two talked over each other before Mr. Rybka concluded his remarks and returned to his seat in the audience.
One late note of interest from the meeting, the request by Justo G. Valest for a liquor license at his new establishment, the Matador Restaurant located at 521 Bullocks Point Ave. was also tabled over zoning/parking issues.
All other items on the meeting docket, including one under Council Members business to consider the removal of Mr. Lemont as Interim City Manager by Councilman Rossi, were forwarded to the April 15 meeting.
— Photos by Richard W. Dionne Jr.