Northborough residents talk ARPA fund uses at listening session

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Northborough Selectmen sit during a listening session at the Algonquin Regional High School library last week. (Photo/submitted)

NORTHBOROUGH – Northborough town leaders heard from the public last week on how to allocate the town’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. 

Held on June 16, the listening session prompted proposals for everything from business support programs to before-school youth gym activities. 

“We’re not going to be deciding on anything tonight,” Board of Selectmen Chair Mitch Cohen said. “We’re here to listen.”

Northborough receives ARPA money

Northborough is slated to receive approximately $4.5 million in federal ARPA funds. 

Town leaders held this input following multiple discussions during Board of Selectmen meetings and in the community on how Northborough should allocate its funds. 

Last Thursday’s meeting followed a forum that community organizers assembled at Trinity Church earlier this year.

The selectmen have already allocated $176,000 for projects, including the Be Well Northborough initiative, Proctor School roof drain repairs, Assabet Park renovations and the town’s new Ellsworth McAfee Park pickleball courts. 

The entire local ARPA allocation must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024. 

Residents propose ARPA uses

Meeting last week, community members proposed a number of possible uses. 

One resident pitched paying for before-school gym activities for kids. Another proposed a teen empowerment center. A third resident proposed using money to address climate change.

Groups and organizations like Northborough Community Meals, the Northborough Historical Society and Northborough Youth and Family Services talked about how they could use the funds. 

Some residents, in turn, advocated for using the funds for economic development or as kickstarter funds to implement the work of the Master Plan Implementation Committee. 

Marile Borden noted that a number of businesses have closed. Others have said they are underwater. Still others have said they were hurt by increased costs due to inflation, supply chain issues and freight. 

Borden’s sentiment was echoed by Brilla Coffee co-owner Alexis Vallejos.

“A lot of costs have gone up, as everyone has mentioned, in raw materials, fuels – the cost of the employees,” he said. “Everything has definitely started to go up.”

Cohen asked Karen Chapman, who is the president and CEO of Corridor 9/495 Regional Chamber of Commerce, and who attended the meeting, how businesses were doing. 

Chapman said the chamber saw that some of the region’s small businesses that were struggling before the pandemic hit “were not really going to make it during that portion of that time.”

While a recent “recovery period” has become stronger, Chapman said, she added that “there’s obviously more work to be done.”

Visibility and marketing is a “big part” of that work, she said, explaining that businesses want to discuss more such opportunities. 

Chapman noted that Northborough is working on a downtown revitalization plan, which she said could be an opportunity to invite the business community’s input. She asked for businesses and the chamber to have a seat at the table.

“We’re very interested in talking to your small business community to see what we can do to help them be successful,” Chapman said.

As part of her comments, Chapman advocated for supporting businesses.

Borden further suggested forming an economic development committee (EDC) — a route taken by neighboring communities including Westborough, which operates its own EDC.

Appropriations Committee member cautions neighbors

George Brenckle, who is a member of the Northborough Appropriations Committee, said last week that there had been good ideas raised for the funds both during the input session and the prior Trinity Church meeting. 

“Four million dollars sounds like a whole lot of money, but it’s not,” Brenckle said.

He said that the town spends about $70 million annually on town operations, noting the budget can increase by as much as $2 million per-year to maintain level services. 

Brenckle said that, during the pandemic, the town did a lot of “belt tightening” and pushed things off. 

His concern, he said, was that people were now treating ARPA funds as a separate bucket of money with separate priorities. 

While Brenckle said the proposed projects were “extremely valuable,” he said they should be considered as part of the town’s priorities.

“If we treat this as a little thing on the side, and [do] not incorporate it into the long-term capital planning for the town and the long-term budgetary planning…we may start a couple of things that die within a year-and-a-half, which would be awful,” Brenckle said. “We may never get around to figuring how they should fit into the whole bucket of priorities.” 

He called on fellow community members to think of the ARPA funds as part of the town’s revenue for the next two years, then seeing how their ideas fit into Northborough’s priorities. 

Selectmen still accepting input

Cohen said the Board of Selectmen will now discuss the input session and its next steps during its meeting later this month. 

Residents can still provide input at [email protected] 

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