PAWTUCKET — Saying that it has played “a vital role” in the growth of the city's downtown as an artistic, cultural and economic center, the City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing the exemption of the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre from taxation.
The resolution, supported by an 8 to 0 vote, gives the City Council the authority to exempt the theatre from paying taxes on real property, personal and motor vehicles. The legislation will require approval from the General Assembly to take effect.
According to City Clerk Richard Goldstein, the Gamm Theater, which leases its space now in the Pawtucket Armory building, does not pay real (property) taxes or motor vehicle taxes, but does currently pay about $800 a year in personal (tangible) property tax on equipment. However, should the theatre eventually purchase its own space in the city, it would be exempt from property taxes as well, Goldstein noted.
According to city officials, the non-profit theatre company came to Pawtucket with two employees and now has a staff of 60, including 23 who are full-time. With its award-winning shows, the Gamm reportedly brings in some 30,000 people each year, resulting in an estimated $1.2 million in indirect economic spending in local shops and restaurants. The theatre also gives back to the city with over $158,000 annually invested in the Pawtucket schools through school and after-school programs at little or no cost to the school district.
In its resolution, the council noted that the benefits derived from having the Gamm Theatre in the downtown “is of great value to the city and far outweighs the cost of the requested tax exemption.” It also urges the Pawtucket delegation to the General Assembly to work diligently to support the passage of the tax exemption.
In other matters, the council heard a presentation from Antonio Pires, director of administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, on the decision to reduce the minimum manning requirements to 28 from 31 on the Fire Department, and the subsequent decision to take an engine out of service from Station 4.
The council chambers, temporarily moved to the basement of the Pawtucket Library due to the City Hall's elevator being out of service, was filled with Pawtucket firefighters, interested in hearing what Pires had to say.
While Pires defended the current plan as being necessary for saving approximately $450,000 in the city budget, Councilor Thomas Hodge said he remains concerned about the safety ramifications of taking an engine out of service, not only for the residents of District 4, but citywide. He recommended that the council send a second letter to the Grebien Administration asking for a reconsideration of these recent actions.
Hodge later told The Times that he is not satisfied with the current staffing situation and is concerned about the “ripple effect” that can occur in the city's fire coverage with an engine being unavailable from Station 4. He said that while he realizes that the Fire Department's hefty overtime budget is a problem, he believes it has been exacerbated by the administration's decision to leave 15 Fire Department vacancies unfilled. “Simply put, I believe they have to find another way to do this without denying the people of that district an engine,” said Hodge.
Also on Wednesday, the council voted to approve a request by Council President David Moran to send a letter to the Rhode Island office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other state and federal officials relaying concerns that city officials have about the lack of trained personnel to deal with workplace accidents or hazardous spills related to the Pawtucket River Bridge project.
Pawtucket Fire Battalion Chief John McLaughlin appeared before the council to discuss the matter, and said that the Pawtucket Fire Department is concerned about this situation as well. He said that the contractors on the bridge project, S & H/Pihl, do not currently have an accident response team in place, nor have they provided any resources in the way of training or equipment to the Pawtucket Fire Department. If an incident occurs requiring a rescue in a trench, confined space or high angle, or there is a hazardous materials spill from a truck using the detour related to the bridge construction, mutual aid would have to be sought from the Providence Fire Department or some other municipality or agency, he said.
Moran said that having no locally trained response team in place for the ongoing bridge project is unacceptable and recommended that letters be sent to OSHA, the local congressional delegation, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee, notifying them of the situation and recommending action.
Also on Wednesday, the council approved the appointment of attorney and current associate municipal court judge Donna M. Nesselbush as the new municipal court judge to fill the unexpired term of Judge John F. McBurney, III. A decision on the naming of a new associate judge to replace Nesselbush will be made at a later date, Goldstein said.
Additionally, the council granted a victualling house, 1st class license to International Club and Billar, a proposed nightclub at 327 Barton St. Prior to the council meeting, the City Council's Board of License Commissioners had also granted a Class BV liquor license to the establishment after being told that the owners had been cooperating with the city fire marshal on constructing an additional means of egress and in meeting other building and fire code requirements.