E.P. Council formally approves expanded business hours ordinance

Backs budget season changes, amendments to Juvenile Hearing Board

By Mike Rego
Posted 2/19/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — A larger pool of businesses will in fact have the opportunity to petition the council to remain open in the overnight hours after the body at its February 18 meeting gave …

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E.P. Council formally approves expanded business hours ordinance

Backs budget season changes, amendments to Juvenile Hearing Board

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — A larger pool of businesses will in fact have the opportunity to petition the council to remain open in the overnight hours after the body at its February 18 meeting gave second and final passage to a revised ordinance.

The business hours act was one of three notable amended ordinances the council considered during the evening (see attachments).

(Updated, edited, 2:20 p.m, Feb. 20)

From  “Sec. 8-5. Closing hours for businesses,” proprietors now have the option to operate between 1 a.m.-6 a.m. following the 4-1 vote last week. As he did previously when first put to vote, Council President and Ward 1 member Bobby Britto was the lone dissenter. The amended ordinance takes effect March 1, 2020.

“This is a special permitted ordinance, so it is not just open to anybody…Like any other license that is in the city it is a privilege to have these certain licenses,” said Ward 2 Councilor Anna Sousa, the sponsor of the legislation. “I don’t take this lightheartedly. I take this very seriously. Any business that comes before the city will be on a case-by-case basis in my opinion. And I would imagine my colleagues and any subsequent councils down the line would do the same.”

The so-called “special permit” would be granted on a six-month probationary basis and gives the council broad discretion over the process. The business owner will have to seek council approval to operate for the second six-month period as well. Also of note, the body at any time can revoke the permit immediately for any reason, pending an eventual “show-cause” hearing. The cost of the permit would be $125 annually. The majority of the council noted the checks and regulations included in the revisions serve as safe-guards against potential problems incurred by the changes.

Pre-existing language offered special status only to “taverns, pharmacies, victualing houses (restaurants) and bowling alleys.” The revised ordinance now extends those privileges to also include “shop, store, health clinic, laundromat, gym or other places of trade or entertainment.”

The revised ordinance does not affect current mandates over the sale of alcohol, which is subject to state law. Bars and restaurants in city will still be required to stop selling liquor at 1 a.m.

“I’m not against gyms opening up early in the morning. I’m a ‘gym rat’ myself. Twenty-four hours, when you say 24 hours, I just think we’re opening up ‘Pandora’s Box.’ When we say for one, it’s got to be for all,” Mr. Britto said in noting his continued opposition to the revisions.

Five members from the community spoke last Tuesday night during the public hearing portion of the debate: three against and two for the changes. Those opposed cautioned against noise, debris and unintended consequences of the move. Those in favor argued for consumer and business owner rights.

“To me, you open a business to make money. And you’re only going to apply for the extended hours if it’s profitable,” said Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon, who joined Ms. Sousa, At-Large member Bob Rodericks and Ward 3’s Ricardo Mourato in backing the legislation. “I don’t think the ‘slippery slope’ argument applies. I don’t think we’re going to see a host of businesses running in here looking for extended hours…To me, unless there’s a demonstrable reason for restricting peoples’ rights and privileges, you don’t do it.”

Budget ordinance
A revised ordinance pertaining to the fiscal year budget season (Section 1, Chapter 2, Article VII) was up for second passage last week, but required further amending and reverted back to first approval, which it received unanimously. It’s likely to be on the council’s March 3 meeting docket for the mandatory second vote.

The new ordinance would require the mayor’s office to submit a budget and explanatory message no later than 70 days prior to the end of the fiscal year, annually October 31, up from the previous 45-day window. In addition, instead of giving final passage to the budget ordinance seven days prior to the fiscal year’s end, the council now must do so 14 days ahead of that date. Also, the administration “shall” provide the council with a final copy of the “certified” budget no later than 30 days after its passage.

The revisions as well include the creation of a Finance Review Committee composed of the mayor or the mayor’s designee, the council president or the council president’s designee, the finance director and the planning director. Though the body has no legal authority, it will be seated to provide the council with quarterly updates on the city’s financials. Also, it will be required to present the council with an annual review of capital expenditures 90 days prior to the end of each fiscal year.

Juvenile Hearing Board
The council also gave second and final approval to a third ordinance last week, Section 2-181 “Composition of boards” specific to the city’s Juvenile Hearing Board. The vote was again unanimous.

Key revisions include changing the language for the time of appointments. Previously, appointments could only be made legally as of November 1 each year. That component has been struck and appointments can now be made on an as-need basis.

The revisions recognize the mayor, following the change in the city’s governmental form, has appointing authority, though with council approval. And, lastly, the number of alternate members was increased from two to three.

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