2013-11-21 / Front Page

Councilors Consider Fees

By Jonathan Clancy

Rebecca Fisher was promoted to the rank of Shift Captain. Rebecca Fisher was promoted to the rank of Shift Captain. At its regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, the Middletown Town Council listened to an update from the Stormwater Steering Committee (SSC) regarding a potential usebased fee for stormwater runoff, which can create problems ranging from pollution and flooding to infrastructure damage and loss of natural wildlife habitat.

According to Andrew Reese, a representative from the engineering and consulting firm AMEC, Middletown is currently spending $475,000 a year on stormwater -related issues. The stormwater expert stated in a previous council meeting that he felt current costs were a bit low and would be on the rise. On Monday, he estimated that the town would need between $800,000 and $1 million a year to handle matters related to drinking water, beach recreation, infrastructure, and flooding.

Reese indicated that if a user fee were to be implemented at a rate between $4 and $4.25 per user per month it would raise an additional $500,000 - $550,000 per year for the stormwater fund.

At a previous meeting, some council members stated that they had trouble viewing this as a fee, and saw it more as a tax.

On Monday, Reese explained, “When you look at the difference between a fee and a tax on a single family residence, a tax for the full stormwater program might be about $117 a year, whereas a user fee for a single family residence is in the $49 a year range."

Another advantage of a user fee over a tax, Reese said, was that a user fee expands to all properties, so nonprofit businesses would pay the fee as well.

Reese mentioned that the next SSC meeting would focus on fee structure, what the fee rate might look like, and credits and incentives that could be applied to those who make efforts to reduce runoff from their property. Nothing has been set in stone regarding these potential fees. Once all of the information has been ironed out by the SSC, it will ultimately be up to the council to vote on the issue.

In other matters, the Council voted unanimously to schedule a meeting with Senator Louis Di- Palma regarding the legislative agenda for 2014. The meeting will be held on Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Prior to the vote, Council President Christopher Semonelli mentioned that he had attended a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) summit last Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. Semonelli said that he was particularly impressed by one of the sessions he attended that was called "STEM Pathways from Secondary Through Post-secondary Education," which was run by David Cedrone, the Associate Commissioner for Economic and Workforce Development in Massachusetts.

“The important part,” Semonelli said, “is economic and workforce development. In Rhode Island, it’s the Department of Economic Development. Ten years ago, Massachusetts created the STEM council led by the Lieutenant Governor who reports directly to the Governor. The program ignited [the state’s] economic revolution, and I feel that we need the same thing.”

Semonelli also stated that a mentor group, Newport County Mentor Co-Op, has asked for a meeting with the STEM commissioner to develop a STEM summit in Rhode Island. He said Salve Regina University has agreed to host a dinner as a first step toward that goal. No date was mentioned for the dinner, but Semonelli asked his fellow councilors to support the idea as an item they could discuss at the 2014 legislative agenda meeting with Senator DiPalma.

Council also voted unanimously on a resolution to extend the town’s participation in the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which offers the Rhode Island Energy Aggregation Program to its members. The program allows municipalities to group together and receive locked-in rates with Direct Energy as their preferred provider.

According to the resolution, the town’s fixed price for the next year will be 7.75 cents per kilowatt-hour. National Grid’s current price is eight cents per kilowatt-hour and is not fixed. Middletown has been part of the league for the past two years and has saved a total of $70,000 in energy costs.

Before the meeting, the town held a ceremony to promote firefighter Rebecca Fisher to the rank of Shift Captain. She was pinned by her son, Andrew.

“Tonight’s promotion…is significant in two ways,” said Middletown Fire Department Chief Ron Doire. “Primarily, this promotion recognizes hard work and determination and reflects Rebecca's commitment to excel in a career in fire service. The second is that she will become the first female officer in the fire department’s history. While this is an important milestone in Middletown public safety, I believe we should focus on the achievement of the firefighter who has worked hard to serve the community, climb up the ladder of success, and set a great example for her son, Andrew.”

Fisher joined the fire department in October of 2005. Prior to that she spent three years as a firefighter for Rapid City, South Dakota. She has responded to more than 2,000 emergency calls for Middletown, including the infamous Tuesday Morning Fire and the rescue of two women trapped on a third floor balcony at a Wapping Road fire in 2010.

Also before the meeting, the council commended the Middletown Little League team Riptide for their undefeated season. Riptide won a total of 22 games in 2013 against 18 other teams from Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.

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