NARRAGANSETT - Despite unanimously tabling the evening’s most expensive agenda item to purchase the current Pier Liquors building in the Pier Marketplace, Monday was still a busy evening for the Narragansett Town Council, which provided an update on the proposed demolition of the Lighthouse Inn, formerly the Dutch Inn, in Galilee and voted to fund a study of the town’s pension plans.
The meeting began with an update from council president pro-tem Matthew Mannix on the proposed demolition of the Lighthouse Inn. Last year, Procaccianti Group, the company leasing the property from the state on which the hotel stands, filed for a lease amendment to allow the demolition of the building in order to construct a 544-space parking lot at the site. Procaccianti Group already owns a parking lot adjacent to the hotel, which is regularly used by those taking Galilee’s ferry to Block Island. Since the lease amendment proposal, a local and grassroots opposition to the demolition and subsequent parking lot construction formed in Friends of Galilee, a non-profit organization seeking an alternate fate for the property
“Thank you to [town council president Susan Cicilline Buonanno] for asking me to provide an update on this issue, it’s something several people had questions about,” said Mannix Monday. “Basically, there’s three lots in Galilee at the old Dutch Inn site, and there was a proposal by the tenant of one of those lots to amend the lease and make that a parking lot.”
“There was a meeting on this by the Galilee Lease Advisory Committee last summer,” Mannix continued. “The lease advisory committee only meets on an as-needed basis, and the members of the committee are two members from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), including Dean Hoxsie, whom many of you are familiar with, and the attorney from DEM, and the town manager and one of the council members. I am the liaison to that group from the council. This committee, unlike most town committees, provides advice to the state properties committee regarding any property in Galilee that’s state-owned. About 90 percent of property in Galilee is state-owned by DEM and governed by these kind of leases.”
Mannix then spoke to the vision of the Galilee advisory committee.
“The goal of many people, especially members of Galilee advisory committee, and many people who live in that area, is to preserve the nature of Galilee and keep it focus on its roots as a fishing port,” he said. “What happened was we went over the proposed amendment to the lease, expressed our concerns about it, and there’s been no final decision made on that item at this time. Since last summer, several boards and commissions in town have expressed their view of not amending the lease, and again, the lease advisory committee is not a decision-making body, but it is a place where the town has a voice on this issue.”
Mannix said the committee would continue to “do its best” to make sure the lease was not amended.
In other council news, the body unanimously approved a $20,000 study of the town’s pensions plans to be carried out by Nyhart, an actuary firm who has handled analysis of the town’s pension and OPEB liabilities in the past. The study, said Manni, was not of the town’s liability, but rather, the individual ordinances dictating pension policy within specific town departments.
“Speaking with finance director Laura Kenyon, this study has never been done for the town and knowledge is power,” said town manager James Manni. “This study here is not to determine liabilities, it’s to define what our pension plan is. It’s loosely defined right now by our ordinance and our union contracts. This study here - we would hire Nyhart to come up with a comprehensive review of our ordinances and union contracts and they would come up with one document that would clearly define what the pensions are for each pension plan that we offer. I think it’s money well spent.”
Last month, councilor Jill Lawler revealed the town’s library board had included numerous employees in the town’s pension plan system, despite rulings from past town solicitors those employees would not be eligible for a town pension.