Parking problems, tax dollars hot topics at Prudence meeting

Islanders press the town proper for more action

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/18/19

PRUDENCE ISLAND — Local and seasonal residents alike gathered into the Union Church pews this past Saturday, Sept. 14, as members of the Portsmouth Town Council hosted their annual meeting …

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Parking problems, tax dollars hot topics at Prudence meeting

Islanders press the town proper for more action

Posted

PRUDENCE ISLAND — Local and seasonal residents alike gathered into the Union Church pews this past Saturday, Sept. 14, as members of the Portsmouth Town Council hosted their annual meeting on Prudence Island. 

For nearly three hours, council members Keith Hamilton, J. Mark Ryan, Vice President Linda Ujifusa and President Kevin Aguiar — joined by Sen. Jim Seveney, Rep. Susan Donovan and numerous town employees — devoted their attention to islanders’ concerns both old and new. 

From complaints over limited parking in both Bristol and on the island, to gripes over how their tax dollars were being spent, to uncertainty over how to move forward with the Mill Creek coastal resiliency project, both residents and representatives of the Prudence Island Planning Commission did not hold back on what changes their community wished to see happen, and how exactly they wanted the town proper to help. 

Parking woes in Bristol

With the parking situation in Bristol only getting worse for island residents, some are now convinced the time will soon come before there’s nothing left for them. Before it gets to that point, however, resident Ray Masse wondered if there was anything the town could do to be more proactive about the issue and start making preparations for their own ferry dock. 

The issue has been raised before. Two years ago, the town conducted a feasibility study for that very solution, the results of which were not exactly encouraging. Since Portsmouth does not actually own Weaver Cove, which had been touted as a possible site for a new ferry landing, the only other options were located on the other side of the mainland. 

“We’re not ignoring the issue,” said Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., “but right now the only feasible option is to continue to work with Bristol to accommodate your needs.” 

Though he assured residents that not only is Bristol committed to honoring its 15-year agreement, Portsmouth is in regular communication with its neighboring town regarding the issue. Islanders, however, said council members needed to apply more pressure on Bristol for changes.

“I think if there was more pushback from you representing us, maybe they would give us more consideration,” said Janet Brown. 

The lack of parking isn’t just a problem for islanders. According to Rep. Donovan, Bristol residents themselves find it a challenge to secure parking places near their homes or apartments.  

“There’s just a lack of parking in general in downtown Bristol,” she said.

Parking problems on island, too

Not only is parking an issue in Bristol, it has become one on Prudence Island as well. Earlier this spring, residents were surprised to find a series of no-parking signs lining part of Narragansett Avenue, stripping away access to roughly 12 spaces near the ferry. 

According to Prudence Fire Chief Donald Dragon, Jr., however, those signs were necessary in order for his department to ensure access at all times to a nearby cistern.

“You have to consider it a really big fire hydrant,” Chief Dragon said.

Yet it was not just the number of available spaces posing challenges to residents; enforcing parking had also become a problem, now that chalking vehicles had been declared unconstitutional. Though Police Chief Brian Peters said police were considering issuing passes as an alternative, representatives from the ferry company, A&R Marine, and several islanders were less than thrilled by the idea.

“I really don’t think that’s a very practical solution,” said islander Robin Weber.

Bang for their buck

With it becoming clear that residents were raising more questions than council members readily had answers for, some islanders grew concerned over how their tax dollars were being spent.

The way Jack Hagopian saw it, aside from the major road improvements three years ago, there was little action the council had taken to make improvements for the Prudence Island community. 

“I feel like the red-headed stepchild,” Mr. Hagopian said.

Though Ms. Ujifusa conceded that in the past, islanders were in fact spending more than what they were getting back in services, that was no longer the case, she said. According to town Tax Assessor Matt Helfand, Portsmouth is spending nearly 20 percent for every dollar islanders pay. 

Although 60 percent of the municipal budget automatically goes to education, the town is also funding the island’s transfer station, two full-time public works employees and the volunteer fire department. It is a balance, Mr. Hamilton said, for town leaders to seek improvements to the island while simultaneously doing their best to leave it alone. 

“We do that with the knowledge that most of you come over here to get the hell away from us and hide from society,” he said.

While others still questioned whether that money was being put to its best possible use, Dr. Ryan stated he had full confidence in Mr. Rainer’s ability to manage the town’s budget both efficiently and effectively. 

“I think we should all be reassured that the money isn’t being spent willy-nilly,” he said.

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