2014-05-22 / Front Page

Middletown Turns to Voters

By Jacquelyn Moorehead

The Middletown Town Council kicked off its meeting on Monday, May 19, with a budget review workshop. Councilors held a question and answer session covering the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Budget proposals were presented by the community services, public safety, and parks and recreation departments, as well as by the tax assessor and town clerk. A public hearing on the budget was held on Wednesday, May 21.

Almost 100 people came out for the council’s regular session immediately following the budget discussions, making for a standingroom only crowd in chambers.

Presentations were made on the “PUSH”Youth Group Initiatives from students involved with the Middletown Prevention Coalition, as well as from the Gaudet Middle School’s “Green Team,” whose members are working to develop an ecologically friendly environment at the school entrance.

Council Vice President Robert Sylvia commended Middletown High School for being recognized by U.S. News and World Report for its outstanding academic achievement. The school placed fifth in a ranking of 52 Rhode Island schools.

Middletown will be submitting an application to the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant program for $250,000, which will aid in the costs of local projects. An additional $200,000 is being requested to assist Lucy’s Hearth in relocating to a new facility.

For an hour and a half, council members discussed a high school unification referendum and the Unified High School Exploratory Committee. The referendum will place a non-binding question on the November ballot to seek voter input on a proposal to join forces with Newport in creating a unified high school. Several residents addressed the council and voiced their opinions, with all but one opposing the idea. However, the question of whether to survey the electorate passed by a vote of 4 to 3. Council President Christopher Semonelli, along with council members Richard Adams, Bruce Long, and Barbara VonVillas, voted to approve the referendum, while Council Vice President Robert Sylvia and council members Paul Rodrigues and Theresa Santos voted against the measure. The exploratory committee will continue unification research and present information to the public and to the council in upcoming months.

On another contentious topic, a public hearing was held regarding a proposed amendment to the Middletown Town Charter to provide for the nonpartisan election of town councilors. Former council members George “Andy” Andrade, Robert M. Silva, and Micheal Kehew all spoke against the amendment, but it was ultimately approved by a vote of 4 to 3. In other business:

* The council renewed the entertainment license for Johnny’s Atlantic Beach Club.

* Six special event licenses were approved for Sweet Berry Farm.

* Two zoning permits were OK’d, one for a residential structure on 3 Porter Road and another for the conversion of a dwelling into a two-family home at 25 Little Creek Lane.

* Four special event permits were granted to the Norman Bird Sanctuary, 583 Third Beach Road, for events throughout the summer and into October.

The next council meeting will be held on Monday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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