As Rhode Island lifted its stay-at-home order and relaxed some rules for businesses and parks over the weekend, Cranston has also welcomed visitors back to some of its recreational facilities and seen non-essential retail stores reopen on a limited basis.
Through a supplementary executive order on May 7, Mayor Allan Fung announced that the city’s walking tracks and tennis courts will again be open for use. It also mirrors Gov. Gina Raimondo’s new order allowing for many retail stores to reopen with restrictions.
Social distancing rules remain in place, however, and other recreational spots – including playgrounds and sports fields – remain closed.
“Let’s just do this right, friends, and we can build on a successful weekend,” Fung wrote in a Facebook post announcing the limited reopening. “Wear your mask, stay 6 feet away from other family groups, and for the love of Pete, stop throwing your gloves on the ground … Let’s show the rest of the state how it’s done.”
The city’s parks and recreational fields have been closed since late March, around the same time the state closed its parks and beaches as part of the effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
State parks that reopened on at least a limited basis on Saturday include Cranston’s J.L. Curran State Park and Meshanticut State Park, as well as Snake Den State Park in Johnston.
On Tuesday, Fung said spot checks conducted by police and city officials found broad compliance with the mask-wearing and social distancing orders and the state’s reopening got underway.
“For the most part, people were complying, especially on the walking tracks,” he said.
Fung said the reopening of other recreational facilities, including Budlong Pool, will depend on further guidance from the state. He said he has been involved in talks on the state and national levels regarding how officials are seeking to proceed.
“That is something that we’re going to wait for a lot more guidance,” he said.
Order on outdoor dining in works
Fung on Tuesday said he is working on a draft of a new executive order related to Raimondo’s announcement this week that limited outdoor dining will be permitted at culinary establishments starting May 18.
“We want to make it work the easiest way possible” for establishments to apply for and receive any needed permits to participate in the new allowance, the mayor said.
Fung also said he is establishing a task force focused on restaurants and outdoor dining. In addition to the mayor, it will include Ward 5 City Councilman Chris Paplauskas, Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady, Jason Pezzullo and Joshua Berry from the Planning Department, Larry DiBoni and Marcia LoPresti from the Economic Development Department, and representatives of the Police and Fire departments, Public Works Department and traffic, building inspections and clerk’s offices.
Fenton-Fung recovers, mayor out of isolation
Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung – the mayor’s wife and a candidate for the District 15 seat in the state House of Representatives – has recovered from COVID-19 and returned to work.
Fung, meanwhile, has also returned to his office at City Hall after self-isolating following his wife’s diagnosis.
“After 12 up & down days, BA finally beat COVID & tested negative yesterday afternoon,” the mayor wrote in a Facebook message on Saturday. “Armed with a new heavy duty face shield her brother got her, she returns to work tomorrow. Thank you to our wonderful neighbors & friends for the amazing outpouring of support, & my great staff for helping the temporary Phenix Ave office work so well.”
Fenton-Fung works as a physical therapist at Rhode Island Hospital. She was initially diagnosed on April 28, at which point she and the mayor entered self-quarantine at their home. Later that week, Fung delivered his final “State of the City” address from his kitchen during a virtual City Council meeting.
“We’re both doing well,” Fung said Tuesday afternoon. He said while he never developed COVID-19 symptoms, he was tested “out of an abundance of caution.” Those results came back negative.
School budget faces shortfall
The City Council’s Finance Committee was scheduled to hold a virtual hearing Tuesday night regarding the Cranston Public Schools budget plan for the coming year. The hearing began after the Herald’s press time.
Schools Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse earlier this year presented a $169.2 million plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It sought an additional $1.76 million in funding from the city.
Fung, in releasing his budget proposal earlier this month, proposed a $168 million spending plan for the schools that would provide $400,000 in new city support.
During a virtual work session on Monday, members of the School Committee received a budget update from Joe Balducci, the district’s chief financial officer.
The “big unknown” at this point, Balducci said, is how much aid the district will receive from the state for the coming year. The plans developed by Nota-Masse and Fung rely on an anticipated $4.1 million increase in state funding over the current year – a figure that the current crisis and its fiscal fallout have placed in doubt.
“Clearly, state aid is in flux,” Balducci said.
As it stands, Balducci said, there is a roughly $1.2 million gap between the superintendent’s plan and the mayor’s proposal. He noted that last year, the council provided nearly $150,000 in additional funding for the district through the budget process, although it is unclear whether that will be possible this year.
“I don’t know if the City Council is going to be able to find any additional dollars this year,” he said.