EAST GREENWICH--East Greenwich residents trickled into the Swift Community Center on Tuesday to vote on two proposed measures that would see the town seek bond monies including $5 million for school repairs across the district and $4.5 million for repairs to the town’s aging water treatment systems.
The town’s director of public works, Joe Duarte, spoke to the importance of repairs to the town’s sewer system and water treatment facilities.
“I am very excited that it passed,” Duarte said. “We are doing the best we can but have used a lot of band-aids. This was badly needed and it was the right thing to do for both the environment and for our relationship with the Department of Environmental Management.”
“Ultimately we wouldn’t have been able to keep the wastewater clean without this, and the state would have had to mandate repairs anyway,” Duarte continued. “You just have to do the right thing and the taxpayers have always been very conscious of that environmentally and politically. This is a community well known for being environmentally conscious.”
According to early reports by the town clerk’s office, unofficial counts of in-person and mail-in votes saw the measure to approve $4.5 million for water treatment repairs pass along a margin of 1146-432. The money will be spent repairing and replacing numerous parts of the three-decade-old wastewater system including the town’s clarifiers, gravity sludge thickeners, sand filters and backup generator. In all, the process is expected to take around two years to complete.
“This was badly needed, these systems had reached the end of their life,” Duarte said. “Over the winter we will need to get a contracting firm lined up and hire them to carry out the repairs over the next two years. In three years it will be up and running. We’re going to get into it and do the repairs as quickly as possible.”
Alongside the wastewater item was a measure to allow for the town to seek $5 million for various repairs across the school district with the lion’s share going to improvements at East Greenwich High School. In all, over 50 percent of the money is planned for improvements to health and safety, 19 percent to site and playground repairs, 14 percent to IT infrastructure and 13 percent to security. The school bond passed by a vote of 1090-495 despite a campaign against it by the Republican Town Committee that claimed the move was poorly thought out financially.
School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark expressed her excitement for the repairs and renovations that the bond will allow.
“I am absolutely thrilled by how the community came together to support the bond,” Mark said. “The bond is going to enable us to invest in IT and security and make upgrades to support teaching and learning. It is a very exciting time for East Greenwich.”
“We never would have been able to make these investments with the money in our operating budget,” she continued. “It was a smart fiscal investment on part of the town and we are excited to get to work.”
Though both votes resulted in landslide victories, a tweet by the Rhode Island Board of Elections highlighted the fact that less than 13 percent of eligible voters in the town turned out for the referendum, though such low numbers are not uncommon during local votes. The official vote numbers will be released on Nov. 12 when they are certified.
In all, though the passage of both measures is considered a victory by both the town council and the school committee, local officials say the greatest benefits will be passed on to the town’s residents as both bonds will allow East Greenwich to maintain its growing reputation for excellence in environmental consciousness.