NORTH KINGSTOWN – While they will not have to compete in the upcoming primary, Republican and Independent candidates for the North Kingstown Town Council are gearing up for the General Election in November.
All Republican and Independent candidates were asked about their priorities for North Kingstown and, if elected to the council, how they would address these issues.
Kerry McKay, a Republican, has been a member of the town council for the past eight years.
McKay highlighted the budgets passed by the council over the last two years, which he said did not raise taxes, as particularly noteworthy accomplishments.
“These are very big accomplishments that take many hours and require a great deal of staff time,” he said. “Most recently we passed a budget that resulted in a zero increase in taxes to every taxpayer in town, even though the original [FY21] request was for a $2.7 million increase. I am very proud of this accomplishment because it required a great deal of teamwork from the town council, town officials, school department and the school committee.”
McKay also said that over the last two years–in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest and opposing points of view–this year’s budget was passed because of “leadership and communication at work for our taxpayers.”
Furthermore, McKay pointed to the Wickford Elementary School project moving forward, with the council finalizing a deal with the prospective buyer of the vacant building, as well as planned renovations of the currently vacant Town Hall building.
“I will be very closely monitoring all expenditures that occur in this endeavor to protect our tax dollars and insure they are spent wisely,” he said.
He also said that the council negotiated a new contract for the fire department to move to the four platoon system.
McKay also said he was proud of the town’s “strong fiscal position,” which has been a priority of his since being elected.
However, McKay said that the Rolling Greens development, which was passed unanimously through three different bodies of town government, there were still “individuals suing [North Kingstown] to block this great project.”
“This must stop and this project which has unanimous support must be allowed to proceed,” McKay said.
Another issue going forward, and which he would focus on if reelected, is the current state of Post Road, which he said must be “beautiful to attract new business”
“This will require continued effort on all our parts. If re-elected this has to be a priority for all of us,” he said.
McKay, who, along with his brothers, runs McKay’s Furniture, a business that is 120 years old, said he has a “unique perspective” on the elements to “get the job done.”
“You must be able to adapt to an ever changing world. It takes strong leaders to understand this pot-holed landscape, no pun intended, and to get the job done. I think I have proven myself worthy of your vote this November and have a request for all who support the job I'm doing,” McKay said. “Leadership and dedication to our community are what we represent.”
McKay added that residents should support the other two Republicans running for the council, Mary Brimer and Randy Wietman.
Current council member Mary Brimer, a Republican, was first elected in 2018. And since that time, she said that she, along with McKay, has ensured a zero property tax increase over the past two years.
Brimer also highlighted the council moving forward on four pivotal projects in town, including the planned Wickford Elementary School sale and redevelopment, renovations to the currently vacant Town Hall building, the sale of the Annex building, and the Town Meeting House.
“I am proud to have set a new destiny into motion for four of our historic buildings–Wickford El, The Annex, The Old Town Hall and The Meeting House,” she said. “I believe that we have honored historic preservation while exercising common sense and respect to taxpayers.”
On top of that, she said she supported changing the fire department from a three platoon system to a four platoon system, which has “increased public safety and quality of life for our first responders.”
Going forward, Brimer said that the most pressing issues still facing North Kingstown will be leading the town out of the COVID-19-related state of emergency and back into “normal operations.”
“We need proven leaders with a backbone, courage and willingness to lead by example. I believe community support for our youth, disabled and seniors is critical,” Brimer said. “Until we are fully operational again, our youth of all ages, particularly our high school students will require mentors and community advocates to keep them engaged and focused given the uncertainty of in-person learning and cancellation of extracurricular activities. Our seniors and disabled residents continue to need community volunteers to assist in companionship, meal delivery, grocery and pharmacy runs, transportation to [medical doctor] visits, etc.”
These three groups–the youth, disabled and senior citizens–have always needed support from the community, but “more now than in previous years,” Brimer said.
And if re-elected, Brimer said she would “continue to protect the taxpayer checkbook with my financial expertise” to ensure that the town council is financing needs, not wants. She went on to say that she would “serve as a connector” between residents and local government.
“[A]nd only after we have taken into consideration all resources already available to us,” she said. “Many residents have transitioned into working from home. This has resulted in newfound hours for some and a willingness to spend their time on meaningful activities–such as mentoring and volunteering. Whether it is assisting our seniors, mentoring our students and teens, or volunteering at our Food Pantry, we have a lot of local available talent.”
Challenger Randy Wietman, a Republican, said that, after retiring from the U.S. Navy, he decided to run for town council to “make North Kingstown a great place to live.”
The most pressing issues facing North Kingstown, Wietman said, including finding solutions for the “rundown and neglected appearance of the Post Road corridor”; developing a process to get students into a healthy and functional scenario for the return to school; and starting construction and repair on the Wickford El building and the town hall.
Other issues highlighted include lowering the current tax rate, while also establishing a better business arrangement between the town and the Quonset Development Corporation and other businesses, via renegotiated PILOT programs, rentals and tax structures.
Additionally, Wietman said he would focus on adding more tie-ins to the town's sewer systems.
“Only those who have tied-in are covering the cost of the sewers,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are too few customers who have tied-in.”
The town also had to be responsible and appropriate about the development of housing in North Kingstown, no matter what the type.
“It’s important to note that my involvement is largely not aspirational, because I'm not waiting to get elected to make a difference,” Wietman said. “I am involved in the workings of my town now. I love this town and will always do my best to keep it a great place to live and raise families, and will always do my best, based upon the town's needs and my capacity to help.”
Wietman is the current chairman of the zoning board of review, member of the sewer appeals board, member of the charter review commission, member of the social committee, Wickford Yacht Club, member of Historic Wickford (HistWick), member of the North Kingstown Veterans Scholarship Committee, and member of the Republican Town Committee.
“If you want to know where my heart is, and you wish to know something of my commitment to this town, look at what I am already doing,” Wietman said.
Kevin Maloney is the sole Independent running for town council. Maloney, who previously sat on the town council, came in sixth place in his 2018 reelection campaign. However, after former member Stacey Elliott announced earlier this year that she would be stepping down from the council, Maloney was appointed to the vacant seat, as is mandated by the town charter.
Now once again running for election, Maloney pointed to several accomplishments over his previous time on the council.
These included creating the Post Road Face Improvement program, as well as initiating modifications to the plan to ease restrictions and attract businesses; prioritizing transparency of government and “standing up for town residents and taxpayers”; preventing large scale industrial solar farms in residential neighborhoods and deforestation across town; reestablishing a capital improvement fund for the schools; and initiating funding to resolve the long standing high school heat issue.
Other accomplishments over his previous terms included ending the tentative leasing and subsequent displacement of retail businesses in Wickford Junction for municipal offices, while also initiating a focus for a traffic study in Wickford, though the study has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said he helped West Main Street residents resolve poor road condition issues by suggesting a sewer connection option.
Maloney said there were still several issues facing North Kingstown, such as the hardships brought on by the pandemic, as well as the town’s groundwater and the negative effects of outside influence in local politics.
“COVID has had a dramatic effect on everybody,” he said. “The schools, retail, recreation and tourism all greatly affected locally by the current pandemic.”
Maloney added that the town’s most “important resource,” its groundwater, was being threatened by development pressures and lack of protective measures for the safety of the drinking water.
“I will continue to seek and promote enforcement of and maintain or strengthen our groundwater ordinances to protect the quality and quantity of our drinking water,” he said.
Outside influence in local campaigns, he added, was another problem.
“A ton of money from outside of North Kingstown is subsidizing candidate campaigns, developers trying to bypass either ordinances or ‘community pushback,’ and other special interests are all seeking to influence our local elections,” he said.
He directed residents to view campaign finances by going to https://elections.ri.gov/finance/publicinfo/.
“A lot of that money is gunning toward trying to discredit those who stand up for the local community and groundwater protection,” he said. “Once in office, whose interests are they really representing?”
And if elected to serve another term, Maloney said he would focus on making sure that schools are adequately funded to “handle the extra resources required for COVID,” while also supporting the local business community as much as possible, including safe modifications and temporary easing of restrictive ordinances.
He added that he would also continue to seek improvements to the Post Road Corridor Plan and start approved sewers north of Quonset.
The General Election will take place on Nov. 3. In the coming weeks, the Standard Times will also be profiling candidates for the Exeter Town Council.