Portsmouth seeks 2% cap on increases to civic support

Library would get biggest piece of the pie, with $571,510

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/29/24

PORTSMOUTH — Forecasting another challenging budget season, the Town Council is expected to keep the overall increase in civic support for local nonprofit organizations to no more than 2 …

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Portsmouth seeks 2% cap on increases to civic support

Library would get biggest piece of the pie, with $571,510


PORTSMOUTH — Forecasting another challenging budget season, the Town Council is expected to keep the overall increase in civic support for local nonprofit organizations to no more than 2 percent for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The council Monday night received its first look at Town Administrator Richard Rainer Jr.’s proposal for civic support to groups like the Portsmouth Free Public Library, the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, Meals on Wheels and others, and tentatively approved it as presented.

While the council could make changes here and there for individual organizations as it gets deeper into the budget process, it vowed to keep the bottom-line number within a 2-percent hike.

The numbers presented by Rainer (see chart above) appear to show a decrease in civic support of over 19 percent, but that’s misleading because one of the entities previously listed there — the Prudence Island Volunteer Fire Department (PIVFD) — was taken out and now falls under the Portsmouth Fire Department budget.

The current 2023-24 budget includes $930,132 for civic support, including funding for PIVFD. Next year’s civic support requests totaled $856,982, with Rainer seeking tentative approval for $738,931. 

Under Rainer’s proposal, organizations requesting increases were capped at 2 percent each. He also recommended that Portsmouth’s share of opioid settlement money be used to fund the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition as the town did last year. (Rhode Island joined a national opioid settlement in January 2022 that led to more than $90 million in funding for state and local efforts to address the state’s opioid crisis.)

Clean Ocean Access has dissolved, so that group will receive no funds next year. The volunteer group got $3,000 in this year’s budget.

The Portsmouth Garden Club receives no funding under civic support in the current budget, but is receiving $1,000 under Rainer’s proposal for next year. However, the administrator explained the club’s funding historically comes out of the DPW tree maintenance account, so the $1,000 does not represent an increase. Rainer said he moved the item to civic support in the interests of transparency.

No funding proposed

There are four organizations requesting funding next year that are not currently receiving anything from the town: 

• Aquidneck Island Planning Commission — Rainer proposed zero funding in next year’s budget. “The council previously voted to stop providing monetary support to the organization,” he explained.

• St. John’s Lodge Food Bank and The Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island — Rainer proposed that each group receive half of their request: $2,500 for the food bank, and $2,100 for the wildlife group.

• Four Hearts Foundation: The nonprofit that is raising money to build a modern and inclusive playground on Turnpike Avenue requested $28,000 in civic support for next year. Rainer, however, proposed no funding. “DPW has been supporting the refurbishment project with equipment, material, oversight, and manpower,” the administrator pointed out. “The council was briefed at the start of the project that this would be done at no cost to the town. So, I thought it was responsible to the town to make the recommendation that I do.”

More for food bank

Council member David Gleason said he wanted to allocate more funding to the food bank. He said the organization was similar to the mission of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Newport — that group would receive $4,080 under Rainer’s proposal — in providing “food stock for people who need it here in town.”

Council member Keith Hamilton agreed, and on his motion the council voted 5-1 to reallocate $1,100 from the wildlife rehab group to St. John’s, increasing the food bank’s total to $3,600 without impacting the bottom line. Council member Charles Levesque voted against the motion, saying he would rather give tentative approval to the entire package and allow individual organizations to come before the council at a later date if they wanted to plead for more money.

In response to Gleason’s comments, Heather Hole Strout, executive director of the MLK Center, said she appreciated any funding the center receives, but the council should be aware that the organization does much more than hunger relief. It also serves as an overnight warming center for all of Newport County, she said.

“So far this winter we’ve had 75 unduplicated people who spent the night sleeping at the center so they don’t freeze, and there are some Portsmouth residents participating in that program,” she said.

Also addressing the council was William Morrissette, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island, who gave an overview of the services offered by the clinic. Although based in Saunderstown, the association has rehabilitators and volunteers scattered throughout the state. If a resident contacts the clinic (401/294-6363) regarding an injured animal, an alert goes out and a transport person will be sent to transport the animal to the facility.

“Your animal control last year only brought us two animals; the rest were brought in by residents or members of the transport network,” said Morrissette. 

The wildlife rehab clinic, he said, is the only organization in the state that’s licensed by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to handle all species of wildlife animals in Rhode Island, other than marine mammals and sea turtles. “We take them all,” he said.

The group was hit hard last year due to inflation and dwindling private donations, said Morrissette, who’s traveling to different municipalities to explain what his group does in hopes of maintaining financial support.

Senior center status

The Portsmouth Senior Center requested, and received under Rainer’s proposal, $84,000 under civic support. Levesque asked about the status of the new senior center, which will be included as part of an affordable senior housing complex being developed by Church Community Housing at the site of the current center on Bristol Ferry Road. Levesque asked whether the senior center need more money when it moves into its new quarters.

Rainer said ground will be broken on the development in the late spring. “The plan is that the current spot where the senior center is operating from will stay in operation throughout the building of the new facility. They will be the last to move over, so there won’t be any interruption in their operation,” said Rainer, adding that the senior center will most likely remain in the same building during the next two fiscal years.

Portsmouth Town Council, civic support

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