Working together

Sawtooth lease, equipment puchases OK'd; budget hearings start Monday with schools

Posted 5/20/21

By JOHN HOWELL In a show of unity and a commitment to address many of the city's failing systems, the City Council approved Monday the borrowing of $6.5 million in lease purchasing of three new rescues, plus additional fire apparatus, police cruisers, a

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Working together

Sawtooth lease, equipment puchases OK'd; budget hearings start Monday with schools


In a show of unity and a commitment to address many of the city’s failing systems, the City Council approved Monday the borrowing of $6.5 million in lease purchasing of three new rescues, plus additional fire apparatus, police cruisers, a Zamboni for the ice rink, new sanitation trucks and other equipment.

The council didn’t stop there.

It unanimously approved a 15-year lease, with two five-year renewals and an option to buy, for 31,000 square feet of the Sawtooth Building in Apponaug from AAA Northeast as a central location for municipal offices. Starting at $447,000, the lease is substantially less than annual principal and interest expenses if the city were to borrow the money to either renovate the now-closed Annex or build a new one.

And again, the council didn’t stop there.

Acting before the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank rolled $3 million in sewer bonds into debt service June 30, the council approved $1.1 million to renovate the deteriorating Oakland Beach sewer interceptor. The ready-to-go project, which involves relining the existing pipes without unearthing them, is expected to start within a month, Warwick Sewer Authority Director Betty Anne Rogers said Tuesday.

Mayor Frank Picozzi is happy with the results. City Council President Steve McAllister called the meeting that closed about 10:30 p.m. – early compared to some sessions – one of the most productive he’s been involved with.

Picozzi said the council has been “very supportive” of his initiatives, which he had not expected when he took office. Picozzi is an independent. All nine members of the council are Democrats.

“We’re all working together to move the city forward, politics aside,” he said.

McAllister termed the environment “uplifting.”

“The mayor has been great to the council. He keeps me updated. He keeps me informed,” he said.

Speaking of the council, McAllister said, “ everyone wants to do what’s best. We’re doing stuff that we’re going to see direct results.”

McAllister points to the lease-purchase plan aimed at institutionalizing the replacement of vehicles and equipment before reaching the end of their useful life with the aim of providing city workers with dependable equipment and avoiding the costly wholesale replacement of aging fleets. Picozzi sees the practice as being carried forward and a part of the annual budget. Lease-purchase financing costs are projected to be about $1 million in the upcoming budget, according to City Finance Director Peder Schaefer.

Equipment replacement program

Equipment to be bought with lease payments includes $700,000 for police vehicles; three rescues at $270,000 each; a pumper at $500,000; a ladder truck at $1.2 million; library HVAC at $850,000; replacement library elevator at $180,000; a DPW aerial boom truck at $200,000; two refuse recycling trucks at $350,000 each; a rear load packer $200,000; and a side load packet at $175,000.

The $333 million, no-tax-increase budget that the council will start reviewing Monday prompted action on both the AAA lease and lease purchase package.

Picozzi built $240,000 – the half-year cost of the Sawtooth Building – into his budget on the expectation that the Class A office space would be built out and ready for occupancy by January 2022. He needed council approval of the lease to proceed. On May 6, Picozzi invited council members to the vacant building to see plans drafted by the Planning Department and ask questions of AAA top brass, who explained they had planned to renovate the mill building, built in 1907, as a service office and call center. The service office will occupy about 4,500 square feet of the building, but in the wake of the pandemic with people working from their homes, AAA dropped plans for the call center. The company looked at converting the space into residences, and then Picozzi called with the possibility of leasing it to the city.

At Monday’s meeting, McAllister pointed out that the lease includes maintenance and that the building would have a community meeting room. He observed groups that now meet in the Buttonwoods Community Center can now play cards after paying taxes. City offices now located in Buttonwoods, the former Randall Holden School and City Hall would be moved to the Sawtooth Building. The City Clerk and the Board of Canvassers would remain in City Hall.

“Everything here has been negotiated well,” Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix said. He said the deal has advantages for the city and AAA.

City did its homework

“The city did their homework,” Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur said. He predicted the new environs would result in increased productivity and efficiencies. As for the cost of the lease, he said, “we need to take control of over time costs and we can easily pay for it.”

Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis believes the new offices will serve to instill pride in the city among employees and residents. Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi sees use of the building, all that remains of the Apponaug Mill, by the city as keeping with the cultural heritage of the village.

The historical nature of the building is a significant feature to Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe. Howe has talked with the mayor about the possible use of the Caleb Greene Homestead, which is part of the property, as a veterans’ center.

“Apponaug is getting its mojo back,” summed up Ward 9 Councilman Vincent Gebhart.

Public comment was likewise favorable. Barbara Walsh is particularly pleased that the building will be outfitted with solar panels, providing sufficient power to meet city demands.

McAllister aims to review the FY 2022 budget Monday and Tuesday of next week. The meetings would start at 4 p.m. and, depending on whether the governor lifts the executive order relative to public meetings, could be held in-person, as a hybrid of in-person and over Zoom, or entirely on Zoom.

Picozzi said regardless of whether some form of in-person meeting is possible, he intends to be in City Council Chambers with department directors for the hearings.

Following an overview by Picozzi and Schaefer, McAllister said the council would consider the school budget, police and department of public works. On Tuesday, the council would review the Fire Department budget, which McAllister predicts will generate the most public discussion because of overtime costs that are projected to exceed $6 million this year. The budgets of remaining departments would also be heard on Tuesday, assuming there is sufficient time.

Sawtooth, apparatus


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