Council: ‘No thanks’ to federal grant

After months of debate, council rejects $7.2M for new community center

Posted 3/13/24

Cranston won’t be getting a new community center after all.

In a 5-2 vote on March 4, a resolution authorizing the acquisition of $7.2 million from the U.S. treasury office through the …

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Council: ‘No thanks’ to federal grant

After months of debate, council rejects $7.2M for new community center


Cranston won’t be getting a new community center after all.

In a 5-2 vote on March 4, a resolution authorizing the acquisition of $7.2 million from the U.S. treasury office through the Rhode Island Pandemic Recovery office failed in the city council finance committee and, according to Chief of Staff for Mayor Hopkins, Anthony Moretti, there won’t be time to file a new resolution before the window for the funding closes for good.

The bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli and Councilman John Donegan, was opposed most vocally by Council president Jessica Marino and Councilman Robert Ferri. Their primary concerns with the resolution, and the planned community center more broadly, were a stated lack of a detailed plan for funding the center’s operational costs and the costs of programming, both of which aren’t funded by the grant.

Marino said “I do not have confidence that the administration that’s coming here this evening asking us to do this who doesn’t have these details that are pertinent, I feel it is irresponsible to give this ‘yeah this is something the city can do.’”

The resolution was a single page, and in addition for authorizing the city to accept the grant funding, it also asserted that there exists a need within the city for a community center that supports jobs, health monitoring, and education; that the construction of the facility would be 100% funded by the grant; and that the city would consider any requests related to the grant in a timely manner. No details relating to the cost of operations or programming were provided, though Moretti did estimate a yearly expense of $10,000 for operations. A letter of intent from the Comprehensive Community Action Plan was submitted to the record, which stated the organization’s intent to run programming for the center. The letter was non-binding.

Responding to the apparent lack of concrete details, Ferri said “Four months ago we did ask for a plan, we did ask how much it was going to cost, we brought those questions up. There was no concrete plan from CCAP or anybody else, where’s the plan? Where is it?”

He continued, “You can’t just come to us and tell us it’s going to cost $10,000 to run the building, where’s the plan? A four line resolution is not a plan.”

Councilman Paplauskas spoke in favor of the resolution, stating that the city’s operating budget more than allowed for the expense of running the center, even if the $10,000 estimate was incorrect.

 “Even if it’s $20,000, it’s a rounding error in a $300 million budget,” Paplauskas said. “If we can get the building for $7.2 million, it’s free money for the city… If people need training for the workforce, we’re going to wish we had that building.”

Councilman Donegan, who chairs the finance committee, shared the concerns expressed by members of the committee, but said “We should continue exploring this opportunity.”

But it was not to be. Councilmen Donegan and Paplauskas voted in favor of the resolution, but Council President Marino and councilmembers Campopiano, Ferri, Germaine, and Wall did not, and the motion failed.

The proposed community center has been discussed in Cranston since the summer of 2023. As part of the Learn365RI program, it was to be located on Duckworth Street on property which is now a baseball field next to the Pastore Youth Center. A number of locations had been considered for the bill, including a well publicized bid for the Park Theater.

A grant application was sent out by the city to the office of pandemic recovery in December 2023. This most recent resolution was a stipulation by the office barring the city from collecting on the grant.

Following the finance committee meeting, Mayor Hopkins released a statement expressing disappointment in the Democratic leadership of the city council. He alleged that the rejection of the resolution was politically motivated. He mentions Ferri, who is running against Hopkins for mayor, accusing him of being “just another obstructionist politician.”

“We would have had a new facility and work with local partners on programming services… Sadly, they want to stop a sound proposal for political purposes so that my administration can take no credit for this initiative,” Hopkins said in the statement.

He points out that the city council has been involved in the process since its inception. He wrote in the statement:

“Some Democrats acted last night as if this whole topic was new and foreign to them,” Hopkins said. “In December, Paul Dion, Director of the State Pandemic Recovery Office briefed the same Finance Committee members about the components of the grant process. The Council President was even involved with a working group with my office way back in September of last year for this grant.”

Hopkins said he met with a group of local officials in September, including city council president Marino, city council minority leader, superintendent of schools, school committee chair, and the President and CEO of the Comprehensive Community Action Program. Several department heads had been involved early in formulating plans for the grant submission.

Councilwoman Renzulli, who co-sponsored the resolution but did not participate in the March 4 vote because she is not a member of the finance committee, also made a statement, saying:

"It's extremely disheartening that my colleagues would pass on the chance to secure the $7.2 Million 'Multi-Purpose Community Learning Centers Municipal Grant,’ offered by Governor McKee via the federal government. The resolution that I sponsored with Councilman Donegan federally funds a vital community center in the most disadvantaged area of our city.  This community center holds immense potential for job training, health/mental health support, and education in Cranston. Regrettably, my colleagues’ decision to vote down this resolution deprives Cranston’s residents who most need these services, millions in pivotal support.“

Councilman Donegan, who co-sponsored the bill with Renzulli but expressed doubts himself with the plan, spoke with the Herald about his justification for pursuing the resolution despite misgivings.

He said, “The question that I kind of simplified it down, in my own mind was ‘Would I be supportive of the city spending money out of the city's operating budget to support this community center? Whether that is utilities or potential programming, if necessary. And the answer that I continued to come back to is Yes.”

He continued, “What that number would ultimately be, outside of the fixed utilities, is something that we can be creative with. But I don't think that programming would be an issue, I think, based on conversations with CCAP and the library, and I haven't had conversations with the schools but I don't think there would be a line out the door of groups that would love this space to provide services to the city. I don’t think the city of Cranston would really have to do much of the lifting in terms of paying for or organizing much of the programming.” 

Having the resolution voted against by fellow democrats on the council, he had this to say.

“There's never been within the Democratic caucus since I've been on the city council there's never been pressure or fear or intimidation to vote a certain way. And I think that’s what ultimately makes us I think, a really good, strong group.”

He continued, “We couldn't find a common place to get this forward on this. But I can tell you right now, that I have talked to at least two people that voted separately and we're already talking about “‘okay, what's the next thing we can work on together?’”

grant, community, center


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  • Jrceegal

    I do not believe that this is a Democrat vs Republican issue. This is once again an issue of the Administration not being prepared. An informed fiscal decision no matter the amount requires a plan with funding sources. If this had been in discussions since the Summer of 2023 then there should have been a full plan including future funding sources.

    Wednesday, March 13 Report this