Smithfield Town Council postpones votes on new Land Trust bylaws

Smithfield Town Council postpones votes on new Land Trust bylaws

SMITHFIELD – The Smithfield Town Council on Tuesday tabled authorization of new Land Trust bylaws until the trust submits complete policies and procedures.

Over the past few months, the Land Trust has worked with Council President Paul Santucci to make updates and changes to the organization’s bylaws, completing a short list of adjustments.

The changes were made in response to legislation proposed by Reps. Gregory Costantino and Thomas Winfield in February to disband the Land Trust, hoping it would cause a change in its operations and ethics.

Changes to the bylaws include stipulations:

• That an Ethics Commission opinion should be included for purchase of property or development rights from a member of the Land Trust, elected official or another person who is part of town government.

• That an Ethics Commission opinion be included for the purchase of any property or development rights for a member of the Land Trust when they are voting on a matter within the boundaries of ethics rules due to a relationship or other interest.

• That the town planner provide a staff report on any potential purchases.

• That Land Trust members are responsible for the management of all property and interests in accordance with management plan, and that they conduct site visits and complete property reports.

• That reports for properties are to be submitted and added to the file at Town Hall for a property.

• That a committee be created to research and report findings to the Land Trust, adding to the list of purposes for land acquisition and property management.

• That the Land Trust may be given donations of land or cash.

• That the Land Trust must be given permission to apply for grants to use for land acquisition.

Santucci said the Land Trust was thorough and he thinks everyone will be pleased to see the changes and additions.

“There are some major additions that I am very happy about,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.”

Costantino said he and Winfield were satisfied by the measures being implemented by the Land Trust and the council, and agreed to dismiss their bill.

But, Costantino said he’s still concerned over the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program grant that was not received during the purchase of the $575,000, 7.54-acre Booker property.

The grant, which would have matched up to 50 percent of fair market value for the property, was denied after the Land Trust failed to meet multiple extended deadlines.

“In any private business, if a person missed out on $272,000, they would be fired,” Costantino said.

Al Costantino, who made the initial presentation to the council regarding alleged mismanagement by the Land Trust, said the issue was not that the trust was denied the grant, but rather the organization did not take the time to correct mistakes.

“It’s not about, we just applied and didn’t get it. Anybody could have taken the time and you would have had the money,” he said.

Land Trust Chairwoman Barbara Rich said she and members of the Land Trust were working to complete a new set of policies and procedures based on a template from the Land Trust Alliance.

“I think the bylaws is for the body, and the policies and procedures is for the organization,” she said.

The council unanimously agreed to table the discussion for future consideration, and Santucci said it would be best to hold it and get it all done in one shot.

In other business, the council approved the purchase of four Ford Fusions at a total cost of $79,712 for the Smithfield Police Department using funds from the Police Equipment Fund.

Chief Richard St.Sauveur said this is the final year Ford will be making the Fusion, so he would like to purchase as many as possible to replace administrative and detective vehicles.

The new Fusions replace a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria and 2010 Ford Fusion with significant rust, and two Ford Fusions with possible resale value. St.Sauveur said police have 28 vehicles, 16 of which are cruisers shared between 16 officers. 10 vehicles for detectives and administration, and two specialty vehicles for the canine unit and commercial enforcement officer.

The council also discussed the order of two bond questions that will be on the November ballot, the $45 million elementary school reconfiguration or the $4.5 million fire station.

Council Vice President Al LaGreca made a move to place the fire station first, and the rest of the council agreed.