Growing affordable housing and building new schools are among the top priorities for the Town of Middletown in the next two years.
Each were identified during a strategic planning session Monday night in from Town Hall, led by Vince Petronio. Petronio is a professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island.
Throughout the free flowing discussion, Petronio urged the council to remember concepts were free, but bringing them fruition wasn’t always as straightforward as many would like.
“The ideas are cheap, they’re easy to come up with,” Petronio said. “Making them happen is what’s tough.”
The last time the council approved a strategic plan was two years ago almost to the day, then called a “priority list.”
Housing was the No. 1 priority then followed by education, finances and taxes, the West Main Road development, short-term rentals and water issues.
Opening Monday’s meeting, Petronio said it was good to be back in Middletown, leading another strategic planning discussion.
Setting the ground rules, Petronio said he would act as the gatekeeper, keeping things light, but moving along quickly.
From there, Petronio asked council members and Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown to list some of the bigger issues they saw facing the community.
Council Vice President Thomas Welch III was the first to chime in, saying new school buildings was something that needed to be on the council’s agenda.
Everything from improving the town’s affordable housing, beefing up Middletown’s tax base and upgrading the quality of public education to making Second and Third beaches more profitable, solving the community’s stormwater woes and upgrading the town’s infrastructure were among the two dozen suggestions that cam forward.
Petronio said each had merits of their own, but in order to be truly effective, it was critical for the council to move past the talking phase and into the action phase.
Reflecting on his own experiences, Petronio said he’s involved in community groups where they talk about concepts for years without accomplishing anything. And because everything goes back to money and affordability, Petronio said town officials have to be realistic.
“We could come up with the best ideas in the world, but if there’s no way to fund that, it’s wasted energy here,” Petronio said.
Council members agreed, saying they were working hard, juggling the priorities as best as possible with the available resources.
“We have all these things going on,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “Let’s get going and figure out how we’re going to achieve this…Financially, we’re only able to do so much. If we keep going in different directions, nothing is going to get done.”
“Ultimately, it’s what’s best for the Town of Middletown, whether it’s my idea or not,” Petronio said.