SOUTH KINGSTOWN — In the second night of capital improvement work session discussions, the council shifted its focus from school facility updates to town-wide improvements. 

In order to fund big-ticket items, such as the Matunuck Seawall project, the radio improvement program and road resurfacing, the town is proposing a $3.5 million bond request, according to Town Manager Robert Zarnetske. 

“The idea here is to accelerate some of the resurfacing, to deal with the Matunuck Sea Wall, to deal with some bicycle and pedestrian projects that have been identified by the bicycle-pedestrian advisory committee and to make sure we’re in a position where as things shift, we’re going to be able to put more money into the road resurfacing program,” he said. 

This also includes some improvements at South Kingstown Town Beach, the boat ramp in Marina Park and revamping the radio improvement program. 

The six-year program the town is proposing is about $15 million greater than last year’s, according to Zarnetske. The change, he said, is mostly due to the $3.5 million bond being proposed for municipal infrastructure programs and a $9 million increase in the school facilities project.

“If there’s ever a time to borrow for these sorts of projects,” Zarnetske said, “it’s now.”

Right now, municipalities are looking at the lowest bond rates in recent memory. Currently, municipalities are going out to market and seeing interest rates as low as 2.6 percent, he said.

“It is time for us to be thinking about borrowing some money for construction projects — on our roads, things like the restroom project at Old Mountain Field, the boat ramp — these are perfect projects to take care of while money is cheap,” Zarnetske said. “Money is cheap right now.”

Whether or not these interest rates will still be available next December, is an open question. 

“We should be pursuing debt for the purpose of our infrastructure, rather than putting money in a reserve fund that is literally losing value,” he added. 

Looking ahead to the coming fiscal year, major department heads were each present to talk about needs and projects on the horizon.

Director of Leisure Services Terry Murphy highlighted a number of projects, like improved LED lighting at Brousseau Park, resurfacing the tennis courts at Village Green and improvements to South Kingstown Town Beach — which has seen significant erosion this winter. 

“This is a moving target, year after year,” Murphy said. “We’re basically at the mercy of mother nature.”

The department hopes to increase its reserve funds for beach improvements that can be put toward sand replenishment, potential relocation of the playground and other facility and infrastructure improvements down the line.

One item the department hopes to purchase next year, according to Murphy, is a grooming machine. In years past the town has dragged a chain-link fence to help maintain the beach, but this would significantly improve day-to-day maintenance, she said. 

Public Services Director Jon Schock also informed the council of needs for road improvements throughout the town, though the capital improvement program has not identified any specific roads as a top priority. The need throughout South Kingstown, Zarnetske said, is significant.

Schock also informed the council of improvements and updates that will need to be made to the regional watershed treatment facility. These costs, though, will be proportionally shared between South Kingstown’s regional partners — the Town of Narragansett and the University of Rhode Island.

In the coming year, Police Chief Joseph Geaber Jr. told the council about the department’s need for improvements to their computer systems and tela-communication systems. Emergency medical services have also requested funding to replace cardiac monitors, as well as its transport unit, a few years down the line. 

One of the major needs the town hopes to cover with a $3.5 million bond, is to replace the public safety radio network system, which right now, is not adequate, according to Zarnetske. 

Coverage, especially in the southwest corner of town, is not good.

“We have emergency personnel — firefighters, police and EMTs — who go into buildings and cannot speak to the command outside of the building,” he said. “We have public safety officials who go into a building and are blind to the world.”

The current radio network is so sensitive that “obstructions” easily fracture the system. Officers have walked into pine groves and lost signals. 

The town is currently anticipating $3 million to replace the public radio safety radio network, though Zarnetske noted that these systems are difficult to price. The cost could potentially be lower, he said.

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