By Elizabeth F. McNamara
It was a first for the Town of East Greenwich when the Town Council gaveled into its meeting virtually. Because of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s restrictions on groups larger than five to fight the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and made possible by her relaxing of certain provisions of the Open Meetings Act, the town arranged for the meeting using the Zoom virtual meeting platform, where people can “attend” a meeting via computer or cell phone.
Just like in Council Chambers, the meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance and a “community conversation” followed, with Town Manager Andrew Nota first outlining the town’s response to the extraordinary crisis. Among the issues covered:
- All town offices are now closed to the public; town business continues but the public is asked to phone or email with any business or questions.
- The town has been given a two-week extension on its budget process, pushing the deadline from June 10 to June 24.
- Town staff are working with local food pantries to stockpile food, including more than 2,000 MREs, for residents who may become homebound due to quarantine.
- About 35 people have signed up to volunteer; Nota said he was hoping to get as many as 100 names on the list. Volunteers could be used for such jobs as grocery shopping for people in quarantine. To sign up, call (401) 886-8626.
- The town has been providing as many as 77 meals a day; Nota expects that number to increase. If you need help with food, contact Charlotte Markey at (401) 886-8669.
Find a full list of town offices and how they are handling business during this crisis on the town’s website HERE.
The council also had regular business to attend to Monday night. They approved a bid to Servpro for deep cleaning and disinfecting of EGFD Stations 1 and 2, not to exceed $52,000.
Nota was quick to explain the Servpro bid covered a number of services.
“The chief and I will meet and decide what should be done,” he said. “The final number will be more in the range of $30,000 to $35,000. That’s still a significant amount.”
The cleaning was added to the contract with the firefighters union that was ratified last year (find a post about that HERE), a contract where the firefighters gave up a mandatory minimum of nine firefighters per shift, down to eight, with a floater.
The firefighters handle the routine cleaning and maintenance at both stations. Nota said there was no question the stations, especially Station One, which has three floors, could use a deep, thorough cleaning. “It’s never been done to anyone’s knowledge,” he said. The cleaning would involve removing all items out of each space and cleaning walls, ducts, everything.
“Cleaning the ducts … that alone is thousands upon thousands of dollars for a building that Station One,” Nota explained Wednesday.
“The problem is the station is 106 years old,” said firefighter union president Bill Perry. “We currently have carcinogens all over the apparatus bays … This was one of our main sticking points because many firefighters contract cancer from the fire stations and this will definitely improve the health and safety of the firefighters.”
Once the stations are cleaned, said Nota, it’s probably going to be clear they need fresh paint. Nota said the town will supply the paint and the firefighters have agreed to do the work. Future cleanings should be significantly less expensive, Nota said.
Also on the agenda, during executive session, the council was to discuss a grievance filed by the firefighters over the town’s failure to yet contract for the deep cleaning.
Perry said if the cleaning was done before June, the union would cancel the grievance. Nota said he anticipated the cleaning would be done by the end of May.
The Town Council also approved switching health insurance management – nothing else will change, just the management – from a private brokerage firm to the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust, for a savings of just under $100,000 ($63,500 of that in saved brokerge fees). The RIIT had managed health insurance for the town until a switch by the previous administration two years ago.
Nota said in addition to the savings, the Trust offered a number of other benefits, including employee trainings, risk management practices, health consultant services, renewal rate guarantees and assistance with ACA reporting.
Find Finance Director Trish Sunderland’s memo on the switch HERE.