It’s not over yet.
In fact, City Council discussion and public comment over Warwick Sewer Authority enabling legislation has yet to begin.That’s not the way Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur had hoped his efforts to extend sewers and revamp governance of the authority would play out. Last summer he spearheaded creation of the sewer review commission, and after dozens of meetings the panel recommended $56 million in revenue bonds to expand sewer and upgrade the wastewater treatment plant, which gained council approval. His next effort was to change governance of the authority. To make the changes, the commission is recommending the city must gain enabling legislation from the General Assembly. And in order for the legislation to reach the State House, it will need council approval.
It was the lack of time that eventually forced Ladouceur to hold the legislation until May 12. Looking at the more than 15 people who had turned out to speak on the proposal giving the authority the power to change rules and regulations guiding methods of assessments and fees with greater oversight by the mayor and the council, Ladouceur said he had no choice.
It was 10:32 p.m., and most of those who had come to speak had been sitting in council chambers for more than three and a half hours. At 10:45, the council would go into executive session.
“I can’t allow that when you know we have 13 minutes to speak,” Ladouceur said. He turned to his colleagues, asking if they would be prepared to carry the meeting on after the executive session. There was little support for such an action, which could have carried the meeting to midnight.
And while the public had the opportunity to voice support on legislation to reduce a $160 non-refundable processing fee to $25 on permits to carry concealed weapons – there was no opposition to the measure introduced by Ward 3 Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson – the council likewise postponed a vote.
That action was taken on the advice of the council’s solicitor, John Harrington, after learning that resident Simon Vincent brought suit after the Board of Public Safety granted him a permit to carry a weapon on June 9, 2009. It cost him $200, of which $40 was for the license, an amount set by state statute, and $160 for processing.
Although Vincent said he would drop the suit if the city reduced the processing fee, Harrington advised it would be best not to proceed until conferring with the city solicitor.
Vincent’s testimony came as a surprise after one speaker after the next said the processing fee was designed to dissuade people from getting a permit or pushing them to apply with the attorney general’s office, which charges only the $40 license fee.
Gun-rights advocates called the Warwick processing fee “unacceptable extortion” and questioned its amount when the department performs background checks on teachers and others working with children for much less.
Col. Steven McCartney defended the fee, saying that checks on a routine application can take two to three hours while other cases can be double and triple that.
“I think our due diligence is worth more than $25,” he said.
The chief estimated the Board of Public Safety processes eight to 12 permit applications a year. He thought that 30 to 40 Warwick applications go to the attorney general rather than through the department.
In other action, the council gave second passage to the city’s comprehensive plan, postponed until it has information on costs action to change the system of charging interest penalties on unpaid taxes, heard a report from the city’s actuary on the city’s pension funds and approved a minor zone change to enable the construction of a Cumberland Farms service station and convenience store on a vacant lot at the intersection of Post Road and Lincoln Avenue.
K. Joseph Shekarchi, who represented Cumberland Farms, said the development represents a $2.5 million investment. The council approved the project with an amendment dropping a requirement that deliveries be made with small trucks. Shekarchi said no other municipality had imposed a similar restriction and that the measure would increase deliveries, thereby affecting cost and disrupting the neighborhood. The colonial-designed Cumberland Farms will be open from 5 a.m. until midnight.