Are Limiting Principles Ever Considered?

One of the starkest observations I have made in watching local decisions is how prone the South Kingstown Town Council is to overreach.  It is not unique here, but its most acute impacts are felt by friends and neighbors in ways that are sometimes beneficial, and usually harmful.  Often both simultaneously.  Avoiding the latter is so important, but only if policy makers are not blind to its likelihood.

After watching Monday’s Town Council meeting, it seemed a new iteration of overreach is in the works.  Federal money under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed last March is under discussion.  Some $9 million in “free money” from Washington is coming our way, and ostensibly must be spent on projects that help us recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Let’s not forget about the fact that these projects will come so long after they are needed.  After all, businesses and households were struggling a year ago from the tragedies of lockdowns, restrictions, illnesses, or isolations.  And if you simply look at the number of Emergency Declaration Extensions that have passed unanimously since the pandemic (see Exhibit 3), it would seem that 2023 might be a bit too late to start a recovery.  Let’s also not ignore the initial selection of the types of projects that have been identified as necessary.  Did COVID damage the fences around our public areas? 

But there is one major aspect of this endeavor that surfaced last week.  Consultants were sought to help South Kingstown manage these projects in compliance with demands of the federal government and ARPA.  A proposal was considered Monday to use $492k of these project funds to cover the cost of this administrator.  That is more than 5% of the funding!!!  Some will be used to identify other projects that this firm will also manage.  

Some see this ARPA infusion as South Kingstown’s own little “Build Back Better” pot of gold.  Others worry that funds might be spent on a spectrum of initiatives ranging from inefficient or unnecessary to outright wasteful boondoggles.  The first indication we have suggests the second group might be more in the right.  The first half a million dollars seems earmarked to filling out compliance paperwork and identifying new projects as though no one here can do that already.

A ray of hope did manage to shine through at Monday’s meeting, though.  A motion was made to have the vote on this proposal moved until a point after a new town manager came on board.  The motion was seconded and discussion followed.  The Town Solicitor confirmed that we could have a good handle on the manager position in about 6 weeks.  Some Councilors were unconcerned about the lack of input from the future town manager and were ready to proceed immediately, but agreed to hold off on the vote.  The motion passed unanimously.

Provided the Council does not pull a 3 Card Monte and bring that vote into an earlier meeting, there will be at least 6 or more weeks to vet the full proposal from the consultants.  Hopefully we will see these documents here.

Meanwhile, the train has started on another comprehensive school building plan.  Some initial steps appear solid, but a couple of indicators may be cause for concern.  I hope to spend a little time with my perceptions of that initial meeting next week.

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