SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury plans to use a portion of the funds it is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act on mental health services.
Town Manager Kevin Mizikar presented phase one of a list of projects to be funded during a Nov. 23 Board of Selectmen meeting. The list was unanimously approved.
Proposal would support SYFS initiatives
Mizikar proposed a four-year commitment to increase the capacity at Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services (SYFS) to overcome the “extreme increase” in mental health challenges and requests for services at SYFS.
That investment would total $606,000 and help SYFS hire three additional mental health clinicians to provide services to Shrewsbury residents.
Selectman Beth Casavant said she was “really glad” to see the commitment to SYFS. She asked what it would look like beyond the four years if the town wanted to maintain the three clinicians.
“I can’t imagine that we’re going to have less people who need mental health services,” Casavant sait. “I would think it’s either going to be steady or rise.”
Mizikar said $202,000 is required annually for those support services.
“This will provide us with a long onramp to consider and allocate ongoing resources through the budget process,” he said.
The town is proposing spending $5,000 on collaboration between the Shrewsbury Public Schools, the Central MA Regional Public Health Alliance and SYFS for mental health programming, support and education throughout the school district.
“Mental health is just an issue now that seems to just permeate every discussion about our society,” Selectman Maurice DePalo said. “So, I’m glad that we were able to do that.”
Shrewsbury plans other uses for ARPA money
Shrewsbury was allocated a total of $11.5 million under APRA’s Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.
So far, Shrewsbury has received just under $5.8 million. Mizikar’s recommended first phase of expenditures would total $4,749,680 on public health, revenue loss and infrastructure.
Staff at Worcester’s Department of Public Health serves as Shrewsbury’s public health agents. So, $114,000 would support additional resources through Shrewsbury’s intermunicipal agreement with Worcester.
Additional costs include everything from funds for town and school testing programs to a small business COVID-19 recovery grant program and a document digitization effort.
Shrewsbury also wants to create a communication strategy. This would emphasize communication with non-homeowner residents, such as people who live in apartments, and their landlords.
“We don’t have good insight into the needs of those residents,” Mizikar said. “Oftentimes, but not always, those residents are of lower income and were more significantly and disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
The town is additionally planning to use $2.2 million to replace the Clinton Street water main, which Mizikar said is high on the list of improvements required in upcoming years.
“I like what you’re proposing,” DePalo said after the public health portion of Mizikar’s presentation. “I think we could all make an argument for almost every one of them that more money could be used, but I think that this is a good place to start.”
Mental health conversations, ARPA discussions proceed across region
This money for SYFS in particular does come after the organization recently called out to the community for support amid what it said has been a record demand for services.
The problem, SYFS leaders said in a statement earlier this month, is particularly pronounced among adolescents.
“Adolescent mental health has reached crisis level and we are at a tipping point,” Board Chair Carrick O’Brien said in a press release shared with the Community Advocate.
Shrewsbury’s larger ARPA discussions, meanwhile, move forward alongside similar discussions in neighboring communities.
Southborough hired a consultant to help it navigate the ARPA process earlier this year.
The Westborough Select Board discussed funding opportunities just last week, specifically noting an opportunity to pay for safety upgrades at the intersection of Otis Street and Route 9.
Hudson Executive Assistant Thomas Gregory, meanwhile, presented a list of options for ARPA funded projects on Nov. 1.
The Hudson Select Board is scheduled to discuss ARPA again at its meeting on Nov. 29.