Portsmouth Town Council prioritizes civic support requests

Library, senior center, historical society, PPC top list

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/19/20

Civic support requests from local nonprofits was a hot-button issue during last year’s budget process, something the Town Council is looking to avoid this go-around.

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Portsmouth Town Council prioritizes civic support requests

Library, senior center, historical society, PPC top list

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Civic support requests from local nonprofits was a hot-button issue during last year’s budget process, something the Town Council is looking to avoid this go-around.

At its Feb. 10 meeting, the council started prioritizing which organizations should receive the most consideration, and forwarded the list to Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. to assist in putting together his final budget recommendation to the council.

“This is a better way than how we went about it last year,” council member Keith Hamilton remarked on the decision to pare down the list before giving it to the administrator.

This year, the council received 15 requests for civic support, ranging from $1,000 for Meals on Wheels and the Eastern R.I. Conservation District, to $532,753 for the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

Mr. Hamilton said the “easy ones” were the requests the council has historically funded year after year at either the full amount or close to it: the library, the Portsmouth Multi-Purpose Senior Center ($90,000 requested this year), the Portsmouth Historical Society ($7,000) and the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition ($31,696). (In previous years, the senior center had requested $2,000 in bus funding, but no such request was submitted for next year.) 

The library is asking for $7,873 more than what it’s receiving now (a 1.5 percent increase), while the other groups are requesting level funding. The council voted unanimously to approve each request.

Due to an agreement reached last year, the council is obligated to contribute $59,383 in 2020-21 toward the operations of the Prudence Island School, so the council also voted unanimously to make that a top priority.

A new request for next year, for $30,000, came from Be Great for Nate, a nonprofit started by Rick Bruno in the wake of his son Nathan’s death by suicide in February 2018. Every Student Initiative, a student group that falls under the umbrella of Be Great for Nate, advocates for more mental health resources in the schools.

However, Steve Peterson, executive director of Be Great for Nate, said the organization would be happy to receive any contribution from the town. “We wanted to jump out and make a statement,” he said. “We really want to show these kids that the town’s behind us.” 

The council voted to recommend a contribution of $3,000 each for Be Great for Nate and Newport Mental Health, which had requested that amount. 

The council also recommended $1,000 for Meals on Wheels, which Mr. Hamilton said he performed a “core function” for Portsmouth residents, which he used as the rationale for approving requests.

Debate over CFP center

One item council members did not see eye to eye on was the request from the CFP Arts, Wellness, and Community Center. The nonprofit received $20,825 in this year’s budget and requested $20,000 for 2020-21.

Mr. Hamilton said he didn’t view the CFP center as performing a core function for Portsmouth residents. “I think they can be self-supporting,” he said. Council member Leonard Katzman said while the organization does “great work,” he didn’t forsee the council supporting it financially every year.

Other organizations Mr. Hamilton said also shouldn’t be given priority are the Portsmouth Arts Guild, SIREN Women’s Collaborative, Clean Ocean Access (COA), Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of R.I. 

Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa argued that the CFP hall does in fact perform a core function in town. “They do function as our community center,” said Ms. Ujifusa, adding that COA also helps the Department of Public Works with local cleanups. 

Council member Daniela Abbott agreed that both organizations provide “significant benefits to Portsmouth residents.”

After some more discussion, the council voted unanimously to set no dollar amount for CFP, but consider the group’s funding request again during budget deliberations. Members voted the same way for COA and the wildlife rehabilitators group.

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