By Caryn Corenthal
Over the past year, COVID-19 dominated the news and our council agendas. East Greenwich was one of the few towns to hold vaccination clinics. So far we have held over 35 clinics and treated over 9,000 people, including students and teachers. Town staff, especially Fred Gomes, Fire Chief Patenaude and our fire department worked tirelessly to put vaccines in arms. I, like my fellow councilors, volunteered at many clinics. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Covid presented challenges to our business community. The council worked with our town manager, Andy Nota and the Chamber President, Steve Lombardi, to help our businesses survive and thrive during this unprecedented time. RIDOT granted us approval for some businesses to expand outdoor space and use barricades. In addition, our town now streamlines the licensing process, so businesses can easily renew their license online.
During the entirety of this council’s administration we developed budgets keeping the taxpayer in mind. Taxes have barely increased during our administration. Our FY2023 budget faces less uncertainty than the previous two budgets. However, we need to adapt to community needs taking into consideration that we deferred maintenance in many departments. The American Rescue Plan will give the town an infusion of money that will allow many town departments to get badly needed supplies and equipment. For example, our town manager suggests that we upgrade ventilation and communication systems and build sidewalks in highly trafficked areas. As we await the 2021 audit, our finance director and town manager believe both the town and school will have a significant surplus. Thus leaving both town and school in excellent fiscal condition.
The Town Council, led by council President Mark Schwager, Michael Donegan and Renu Englehart, and resident Denise Lopez helped lead a vocal effort on behalf of our residents to stop MedRecycler from building a plant in West Warwick. Over 300 mostly East Greenwich residents, all of the council members and Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde spoke against the plant’s development at the licensing hearing.
I hope you noticed our new Community Services brochure developed by Director Andy Wade and his staff. It lists town activities, clubs and trips for our residents. I’m told our bingo game days attract over 100 people! Mr. Wade received a RIDEM matching grant money to refurbish two of our playgrounds and the construction is ongoing. Mr. Wade and staff are conducting a Community Services programmatic/facility assessment to develop a Community Services Master Plan. (There is at least one town councilor – Michael Zarrella – who would love a new recreation building.) Our Department of Public Works painted and refreshed heavily-used crosswalks. Our downtown street lighting replacement has begun. Lighting replacement alone will save the town additional money in electricity costs. In January or February the town will hold a workshop on the speeding issue. This issue has flooded my inbox. Currently underway are our Waterfront Study and our Hazard Mitigation Plan. In the spring we hope to begin our Parking Study. The town submitted grant applications to refurbish Academy Field and Eldridge Playground. We are also reviewing the timeline to replace the turf/field at the high school. I must note that the heads of our departments seek and usually find grant money to offset project costs. Our fire chief alone has saved the town more than $100,000. Finally, after many years working for our town, Bob Houghtling has a dedicated office!
If I had to reflect on the most important qualities that I believe our council possesses, they would be honesty, compassion and competence. Council President Schwager sets the tone by his easy-going disposition. He listens to all of the councilors and takes our concerns seriously. We listen to each other and our constituents. We genuinely love working on behalf of the town. I certainly do not have all the answers. Recently a resident urged me to, “talk to the other side.” I, as well as my fellow councilors, are more than willing to talk to anyone. This person chose not to engage with me, but I want all to know that I love lattes and would be happy to meet any afternoon. I wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year.
Caryn Corenthal is a member of the East Greenwich Town Council.