PAWTUCKET â€” City customers of the Pawtucket Water Supply Board could be seeing an increase of a couple more dollars a month on their water bills come January with the City Council's passage of an ordinance regarding fire hydrant rental usage.
Legislation was approved authorizing municipalities that operate their own water supply system, as Pawtucket does with the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, to pass the annual fire protection charges back to their water system customers. However, the charge-back only applies to PWSB customers in Pawtucket, because Central Falls and Cumberland must still pay the PWSB fire protection charge out of their municipal operating budgets.
In Pawtucket, this annual fire protection charge totals about $535,768, which had been figured into the current municipal budget and the tax rate. At the last council meeting, PWSB chief engineer James Decelles and City Councilor Thomas Hodge, a PSWB board member, had argued that this amount was too much of a burden to be absorbed into the PWSB budget. At that meeting, City Councilor Christopher O'Neill suggested a compromise in that the city pick up half of this figure, about $250,000, since the money had already been budgeted, with the PSWB absorbing the balance. A majority of the council agreed with this plan.
On Wednesday, the council voted 6 to 2 to pass the amended ordinance, which will mean that the PWSB will have to take on an extra $250,000 in its budget that was not anticipated. Hodge and Councilor Lorenzo Tetreault voted in opposition, maintaining that since the city had already built the fire protection fee into its budget and tax rate, it was the equivalent of a double tax on Pawtucket residents. (City officials have maintained, in turn, that this money would be going toward paying down the inherited deficit, which had also been built into the tax rate.)
Hodge later told The Times that PWSB officials would have to review their budget and determine the exact amount to charge customers for the fire protection fee. He estimated the additional cost to amount to an extra $2.50 to $2.65 per month that customers would likely see in their bills after the new year. However, Hodge also noted that any such rate increase would have to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission going into effect.
In other matters, the council approved a petition for auto repair shop and used car sales licenses by Marcus Vitali, doing business as Car Pros Auto Sales and Service at 1588 Newport Ave. Vitali told the council he intends to lease the former Pontiac dealership and move his business there because his current location on Division Street is being affected by the ongoing I-95 Pawtucket River Bridge construction.
The council approved the Class A and B licenses with the stipulations that Vitali do no auto body work, not keep more than 25 cars parked outside and install privacy webbing on a chain link fence surrounding the rear of the property. Councilor Albert Vitali recused himself from the vote as Marcus Vitali is a relative.
Questions about whether an auto repair shop license holder can legally sub-let some of his service bays to other repair technicians prompted the council to postpone a decision on a request for a Class A and B license for the owner of Consumers Auto Sales at 610 Weeden St.
Upon questioning by the council, new owner Paul Roque said he intended to sell use cars and do auto repair from the location and was also sub-letting two of his service bays to another technician. However, Councilor James Chadwick, who represents the district, raised concerns about the request, saying he had received numerous complaints from neighborhood residents about the way the previous owner had run his auto repair business.
Councilors John Barry and Mark Wildenhain said they objected to the idea that a license holder could sub-let to other parties and questioned whether this practice is even legally allowed by city ordinance. City Clerk Richard Goldstein said he would review the matter and a decision was tabled until the council's next meeting on Nov. 22.
Also on Wednesday, Tetreault again raised questions about the Special Economics Project Coordinator position that was created by the Grebien Administration earlier this year and being handled by Richard Kazarian. Tetreault received a response back from city solicitor Frank Milos, but said he thought the council should review the sections of the city charter more carefully in regard to the creation of such a temporary position.
Tetreault noted that approximately $32,000 will have been paid to Kazarian by the end of this month and said there is no written contract nor certification by the Personnel Board. â€śThere are some loose ends that should be tied up because we really didn't have any say on this at all,â€ť he said. â€śThe council should look at these sections of the charter.â€ť
In regard to the position, Milos wrote that Kazarian has been viewed as a â€śtemporary contractual employeeâ€ť and the city's personnel director has confirmed that the special services he is currently performing â€śare services which cannot be performed by persons currently in the personnel system.â€ť He also wrote that the city has not put the employment terms in writing because Rhode Island law does not require an employment contract to be in writing unless the service is to be in excess of one year.
Milos also stated that Mayor Donald Grebien has never intended the temporary position to exist beyond the time it would take for the Rhode Island Ethics Commission to render an advisory opinion regarding the funding of a permanent position. (Grebien has sought permission to solicit private funds to pay some or all of the salary of an Economic Development Director.) He added that there is no expectation that the temporary position will exist in excess of one year.
Milos also wrote that the mayor has directed Milos to put Karazian's employment agreement in writing if the council prefers, or, as an alternative, would not object to having the temporary position certified by the Personnel Board, if a majority of the council votes for this.
Tetreault also questioned city Planning Director Michael Davolio about some personnel expenses that were being paid for out of the Planning Department. He thanked Davolio for his answers about two personnel expenditures that were paid for by Community Development Block Grant funds, but told the Planning director that he still hadn't answered his questions about what positions were being paid for by the city budget (for the Planning Department), particularly as they pertain to the Special Economics Project Coordinator.
Davolio replied that the Special Economics Project Coordinator job was not being paid out of his department and invited Tetreault to ask him any further questions that he wanted to about it. Tetreault declined, however, saying he would get back to Davolio with his inquiries at a later date.
On a related note, Council President David Moran asked that a letter be sent to Tony Pires, Director of Administration for Grebien, asking that the council be provided with a list of the projects that Kazarian is working on and what he plans to do going forward. Pires, who was at the meeting, replied that he already has compiled such a list and would provide it to the council the next day.
On a different matter, the council held a public hearing on amendments to the city's comprehensive plan and zoning code to include the Kellaway Center property at 461 Main St. Developer Ron Wierks told the council that he has been working to change the former manufacturing mill complex into a service-oriented commercial area, and the zoning change that allows for greater flexibility of parking requirements and re-use would greatly benefit his property.
No one spoke in opposition to the change, and the council is expected to vote on first passage of the amendments at its next meeting.
Also on Wednesday, the council approved the appointment of Joe Asermely of 24 Walnut St., Pawtucket, to the City Planning Commission, and Dijini Tavares, of 15 Walker St., Pawtucket, to the juvenile hearing board.
Additionally, Councilor Mark Wildenhain told the council that in regard to the higher-than-expected heating and energy bills at the city Animal Shelter, purchasing agent David Clemente is working on some solutions that will benefit the energy efficiency of not only that building but others in the city.