Select Board considering recommendation for how to spend $3M in ARPA funds

ARPA Committee 5/17/22 recommendation (table created by MySouthborough)
(click to enlarge)

This week, the Select Board heard from the committee charged with recommending how to use $3M in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. Now, the Board will have to decide whether to adhere to those recommendations and how.

Recommendations included using about 1/6 for the clear top priority for residents who responded to an ARPA survey – reducing property taxes. 

Many other allocations were for projects that taxpayers would likely have had to fund eventually, like upgrading the Town’s technology infrastructure. Other big spends were for projects that have had high community support but the Town has not been able to invest in, like installing new sidewalks.

One that fits in both categories is adding on a room to the Senior Center.

Other recommendations included “Needs-Based Economic Relief” for residents and bonus pay for 64 Town employees that had to work in-person through the pandemic lockdown.

Over 30 proposals representing $4-5M in projects were received and reviewed by the Committee. They held public forums and issued a survey to the community.

Their recommendations include the top six priorities in survey results. They also include items that didn’t score well in that survey but are in the Town’s Master Plan or have had notable public support over time.

During the presentation, the ARPA Committee learned that they had underestimated the administrative cost for a consultant being paid from the funds. That means they overestimated the amount available for proposals by up to $45K. This Tuesday, they will vote on adjusting the allocations to cover that. 

Still the overall categories aren’t expected to change. (The discrepancy only represents 1.5% of the available federal funds.)

Down the road, some projects may need to be scrapped if it seems they would miss federal deadlines for obligating funds (12/31/24) and fully spending them (12/31/26). In that case, the Committee pointed out that money could easily be reallocated to almost any Town budget items.

But Chair Andrea Hamilton made clear that the Comittee’s intent was to bring down the budgets and taxpayers’ burden. They don’t want to see the Town use the extra funds to justify adding expenses to future budgets or the Capital Plan that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut.

Select Board members thanked the Committee for its work. But they didn’t commit to fully standing by the recommendations. (The Committee did acknowledge that the Board may choose to make some different choices.)

Member Andrew Dennington said that it would be important to show deference to the recommendations. But he and fellow member Sam Stivers have supported the idea of using a big part of the once in a lifetime opportunity to do something special that the Town wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. It didn’t appear that the proposed list checked that box for them.

Later in the meeting, Board members were already discussing a couple of ways to use ARPA funds that weren’t on the list – though they could be argued as covered by the discretionary property tax abatement funds.

In her presentation, Hamilton stressed that there were more worthy proposals than the Committee could fund.

Some projects were rejected for lack of detail or concern that they were too complicated to complete within the fiscal deadlines. Some were rejected based on concerns about incurring an obligation that would continue to cost the Town money after the ARPA funds were spent. Others just weren’t high enough on their priority list to knock selected projects off of the list.

Hamilton described the following six priorities as consistently in the top five survey responses from the over 570 respondents when they sliced and diced results in different ways:

  • Property Tax Relief
  • Fund Sidewalk work (repair & install)
  • Senior Center expansion
  • Purchase National Grid parcel downtown for future use
  • SYFS increased mental health support
  • Bonus pay for town employees who performed essential work during Covid-19 emergencies

(Technically, 674 participated in the survey, but 15% of those left all of the priority choices blank.)

More Project Details

The Committee’s presentation included more details on each of the proposals recommended, including the funding justification. You can read that here.

Upon questioning by the Board, Hamilton provided additional details on some projects that weren’t captured by the presentation.

Purchasing 1.7 acre National Grid parcel downtown

Hamilton noted that there are a lot of potential uses and benefits for owning the downtown parcel. She listed parking, wastewater treatment, Town led development, or holding as an asset to resell.

Board member Lisa Braccio wondered if they had considered potential testing that might have to be done on the parcel. They hadn’t.

Stivers noted he had heard concerns over what might be found under ground. He followed that other Towns that have purchased properties avoided the issue by paving over it for parking or building a playground on a rubberized surface. He believed that even if testing turned something up there could be useful ways to move forward.

ADA Upgrades

Recreation requested funds to address some of the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues raised through the Town’s recent Self Evaluation report. They would use the $20K to replace picnic tables at playgrounds (at Fayville and Town House), and replace water fountains with water bottle filling stations at fields at Neary, Fayville, and Woodward/Choate.

Needs-Based Economic Relief

For most of the funding, the Committee was responding to proposals. Here they “poked around” to find someone interested in proposing this need. SHOPC responded with a suggested figure. The details on how to implement would need to be determined by the Select Board.

Board members discussed various ways they might tap into the resources the Town already has for determining families in need of support.

The Town has previously provided aid for residents in need of mortgage or tax relief. Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski noted that the CARES funded program hadn’t allowed for helping residents with taxes. Hamilton confirmed that the ARPA funding is more flexible.

Sidewalk Repair and Installation

DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan told the committee that there were $1.2M in sidewalk projects that she believed could be completed within the fiscal timeframe. The committee shrunk that to a list they felt was more achievable. The sidewalks were described as on the following roads: Cordaville, Richards, Woodland, and “St. Mark’s North”.

It’s a project that Dennington highlighted as one the Board would need to decide on quicker than some others.

Premium Pay for Eligible Town Employees

Employees identified work for Southborough Police, Fire, DPW, and Facilities. Braccio asked if they considered those who worked hard from home to get the Town through the difficult time. Hamilton explained they weren’t eligible, nor were teachers. The $300K represents $1,000 per part time employee and $5,000 per full time employee.

Not Funded – SHOPC Support

Braccio highlighted one of the projects that the Committee didn’t support. She asked about SHOPC’s request for $8,500 for a consultant to provide technical assistance. Hamilton explained that they weren’t supportive of paying for staffing roles. When Braccio noted it was a one year ask, Hamilton responded that it would have continued funding from this year.

Later, SHOPC Chair Dorianne Jasinski called in to ask the Committee to reconsider. Jasinski explained that the funds were just to help SHOPC with a temporary, but important needs. The volunteer group doesn’t have a budget and needs outside help. 

SHOPC is charged with completing the Town’s 5 year affordable housing plan. They are also worried about the work the work that will be required to comply with pending state regulations on MBTA Communities

Jasinski said that they were pointed to get funds through the Community Preservation Commission. She followed that the CPC hadn’t been cooperative. She said CPC didn’t follow through an assurances that they would pay out funds to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund out of money allocated years ago by Town Meeting for Affordable Housing projects.

(Looking back at an April CPC meeting, it appears the Committee was seeking more details on how funds would be used and accounted for.)

Jaskinski said that SHOPC is planning to submit an Article for the Fall Town Meeting.

Potential funding choices by the Select Board

During the SHOPC discussion, newly elected Select Board Chair Kathy Cook pointed out that the ARPA recommendation gives Select Board discretion over $390K (meant for tax abatement). 

Rather than asking the ARPA Committee to reconsider its choices, she recommended SHOPC’s ask be considered at a future Select Board meeting. Later, under an update on the Northboro Road culvert project, potential use of ARPA funds was raised again.

The project wasn’t on the list of ARPA considerations. At the time that the Committee put out its survey and was considering choices, that project was on the list of capital projects the Town was asking Annual Town Meeting to fund through taxes.

Shortly before the meeting, the Town learned that the estimate was much higher than anticipated. They attempted to pull the ask on the floor.

Voters surprised officials by pushing for a way to fully fund fixing the closed road.* Although they failed to find a way that passed muster with the Moderator, they did approve the initially proposed commitment of $38,5000. 

Cook noted that the Advisory Committee (which she had chaired) wasn’t aware of apparent popularity of the road as a cut through. They had been told the closure only impacted one home and those residents had an alternate path.

Dennington pointed to the Town Meeting sentiment and advocated using the ARPA funds to close the needed funding gap. Malinowski responded that she wasn’t there yet. She pointed out that the project hadn’t fully been vetted in contrast to other capital needs.

Initially, the project was supported because the estimate had close to 2/3 of the project cost being covered by other ARPA funds. (The state earmarked $70K in funds allocated to the state.)

The Board agreed to have the Capital Planning Committee discuss the project and make a recommendation in time for the Board’s next meeting on May 31st.

*Coincidentally, ARPA Committee Chair (as a resident) advocated for the Northboro Road fix at Town Meeting. She made no mention of the potential to tap into ARPA funds that night and didn’t raise Northboro Road in discussions this past Tuesday.

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Carl Guyer
1 month ago

Wait a minute, how did the money ($60,000) needed to generate the cost of the cleaning up the dump on the Breakneck Hill Conservation fund become Property Tax Abatement. Nice try. This is so characteristic of the denial that the town has had its hand slapped for ignoring this mess for decades. When will the Select Board belly up to the bar and start looking for the culprits that brought about the town currently being stuck with this rather than attempting to hide the costs out of sight. Think of the money that will be required to fix this mess as theft or embezzlement of town funds and you then you getting close to the real issue here.

n
1 month ago

Bit odd that the unfunded pension did not make the list.

BOS is NOT listening!!!
1 month ago

So – you put out a survey and ask the town VOTERS how they want this ARPA money spent. They overwhelmingly tell you PROPERTY TAX ABATEMENT, then you go off and discuss, discuss, discuss… tying yourselves in knots trying to figure out how to spend this ARPA money…

IGNORING what the VOTERS have ALREADY told you!!!

No need for endless discussion!

Why is it politicians seem to revel in the sound of their own voices?

You asked – WE told you.

MOVE ON!

…and DO what you’ve been TOLD to do.

I can hardly wait for future rounds of town elections…

UNBELIEVEABLE…

Labrador Retrievers
1 month ago

Let’s review for a moment: Sam Stivers big push (with now gone BOS Healey, post St.Marks park and parking lot fiasco) for septic for Downtown ends up on this phony committee’s short list of recommendations?! The committee was appointed by BOS, including Stivers. The parcel Stivers wants to buy to put a septic plant on (operating costs paid for by YOU, the taxpayer) makes it on the list. THEN, Dennington and Stivers, per this article, plan to OVERRIDE the recommendations of the Committee (that they appointed), because they have bigger plans for this money, and it doesn’t include giving YOU, the taxpayer any kind of break.

Now Dennington pushes for sidewalks for St. Marks North. WTH?? To put a ribbon around the $1m payday box? The St. Mark’s $1m giveaway of public monies (illegally spent) on private property wasn’t enough of a debacle? Dennington, who ALSO sits on the St. Mark’s Park and Parking Lot and Private Road Giveaway Committee, is planning on usurping ARPA funds?? The St. Mark’s PHONY committee was appointed by BOS, including Dennington. (Dennington and BOS formulated the phony “charge” of the committee so narrow as to attempt to predetermine the outcome: Compel a choice between plaque or park on this PRIVATELY owned land, in a desperate attempt to move along and cover up this fiasco. At Town Meeting, voters sent a different message, that Dennington refuses to get: Check to see if this is a likely BURIAL GROUND first??)

Now fast forward to Town Meeting floor: the town voters sent a unanimous message that it will no longer tolerate arrogance, ignorance, and mismanagement of public monies, including DPW and its crazy mismanagement. The same people on BOS who refuse to get the message are at it again. Healey was booed off stage, while Stivers and Cook, running unopposed (due to BOS’s defamation and elimination of then candidate Weishan) did not receive 30% of votes, even running unopposed.

This is the group making the ultimate decisions on where taxpayer ARPA monies go. Not back in your pocket. Because they have bigger plans for your money. To quote comedian Dave Barry, a certain locale “has done a poor job of handling its finances, which is why it’s official credit rating, as determined by Moody’s Investor Service, was recently lowered from “Meth Addict” to “Labrador Retriever.”

Not Listening
1 month ago

No one is jumping to any conclusions. This article and Stivers and Dennington’s comments speak for themselves. It’s pretty clear. They don’t care what the survey response is, nor what their appointees are recommending. The article and their stated viewpoints are self explanatory.

Did BOS get the message from the unanimous votes of residents? A lot of town people spoke up then. When the message was clear, in person, at town meeting, the entire BOS was at its arrogant worst.

Kelly Roney
1 month ago

Do I have this right? Is the National Grid parcel 54-0000-040-0, the porkchop lot behind Southborough House of Pizza that include the SHoP driveway?

Interested
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I took the survey twice, on the same device both times. I think that it’s possible that a group who had a cause would have known they could do this and used that ability to their advantage. Just saying…

THUMBS UP AND A WINK
1 month ago

If you were at the Town Meeting earlier this month you saw the video where DPW’s Karen Galligan gave two thumbs up to spending over $1,000,000.00 (No one knows the exact amount) including the $290,000.00 state grant for the History Walk and Chapter 90 monies (designated for road repair) on the St. Mark’s Parking Lot Fiasco behind the Library.

NOW, the town is looking to give her $750,000.00 for sidewalk repair and installation. Part of this allocation is to go to “ST. MARK’S NORTH” (wherever that is). Based on her management of the St. Mark’s Parking Lot Fiasco, one can only speculate that this money will be diverted from sidewalk projects or that “ST.MARK’S NORTH” will be moved to the top of the list and other identified components will go undone.

More should be said and done but let’s start with this:

1. DPW must provide specific details of their sidewalk proposal including sequence of locations, addresses to be involved, length of sidewalk, etc.

2. Not a dime of taxpayer monies should be spent anywhere near St. Mark’s property until they show respect to Southborough and start (and continue) to pay their fair share of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and reimburse the town for the St. Mark’s Parking Lot.

Let’s not give Karen Galligan the opportunity to give TWO THUMBS UP AND A WINK for mismanagement involving another St. Mark’s project at the expense of desperately needed sidewalk repair and installation for residents in other areas of Southborough.

More on Not Listening
1 month ago

The comments above about ignoring the town-wide survey resonated with me. I have a colleague who served on the recently dissolved noise bylaw committee. Their “charge” was narrowly defined by the BOS, specifically to exclude committee member personal input and to focus heavily on public input, to be obtained through a minimum of three public hearings. The BOS allowed that a public survey could substitute for one of the hearings.

Further, the committee was carefully staffed to deliver the results the BOS chair wanted. If those restrictions weren’t enough, the “charge” further stipulated that whatever the committee delivered to the BOS (not to the voters) was subject to edit or modification by the BOS.

So much for gathering public input!

Keep reading – it gets better (worse!).

Watching the video recordings of the meetings reveals several town voters had concerns with gas powered leaf blowers and traffic noise. At each of the public hearings gas powered leaf blowers were repeatedly mentioned. Looking at the survey results shows almost 2/3 of the people who responded listed gas powered leaf blowers as their primary noise concern.

The committee had many discussions over measuring sound levels in order to enforce any bylaw enacted. In the end, the issue was punted. One member tried to set limits on the operation of noisy equipment – like gas powered leaf blowers – and that too was eliminated from the bylaw.

Recall from above, the committee’s “charge” was to develop a noise bylaw that both reflected community input and addressed community concerns.

What was presented at the town meeting was a nebulous mix of ideas addressing issues that are nonexistent in our town, while ignoring the input of the voters.

In their presentation to the audience at the town meeting two of the committee members presented some “fun facts” of the number of meetings they held and the hours put in. I know some people almost choked to see that several hundreds of hours were supposedly committed to the development of the bylaw presented.

Hey Noise Bylaw Committee – it’s not the time you “put in” it’s what you delivered! Again, watching the videos of the meetings reveal the tremendous number of hours repeatedly and continually wasted in tail chasing “discussions” – always resulting in lop-sided voting.

Two courageous individuals get up at the town meeting and tried to rectify some of the shortcomings in the noise bylaw as presented. I believe these had to do with: gas powered leaf blowers, violation penalties and slightly more restrictive limits to the hours contractors could operate in town. The moderator seemed to allow other meeting participants to make mocking and snarky comments. Shame on you Mr. Moderator!

Unfortunately for those people concerned with noise issues, all were defeated.

I hope the readers get the idea that this kind of “obtain public input” then “do whatever we want to do” behavior by the BOS and ARPA funding is not a one-off situation. It’s endemic and Business As Usual for the Southborough BOS.

We have finally been relieved of one BOS member who often showed arrogance, disdain and condescension toward town voters. Let us hope that any remaining members who continue to feel as though they’re “above” those who live in this town get their priorities sorted out.

Specifically, “it’s not about you – it’s about the town”!

Clearly, we deserve better!

Not only have BOS members seemingly forgot they’re supposed to representing the views and concerns of the public, their roles are not as a result of Divine Appointment, nor are they hereditary! SOme members are behaving as though after they’re out of office, they’ll be living in another community.

As pointed out a couple of times above, people need to vote very thoughtfully and carefully in town elections!

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