NORTHBOROUGH – After a split vote by the Board of Selectmen rejected using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to replace a fire department engine and tight tank in the highway garage, the draft warrant calls for funding the projects at Town Meeting.
These articles heading to Town Meeting comes after both the Appropriations and Financial Planning Committee recommended using ARPA funds for the projects.
During his report to the board on Feb. 27, Selectman Scott Rogers read a portion of the Financial Planning Committee’s report that will be in the Town Meeting booklet.
“The committee believes the financially conservative approach would be to use ARPA funds for projects that are immediately needed and ask the voters to support future discretionary projects once they are known and appropriately defined,” the Financial Planning Committee wrote in its report.
In their report, the committee said that its members continued to recommend using ARPA funds for both the fire engine and tight tank and result in “no additional tax impact to residents.”
The debt from the projects is estimated to cost the average single-family Northborough home $27 a year or $270 over 10 years. If approved at Town Meeting, it is projected to hit the tax bills in fiscal year 2025.
In their report, the committee recognized that the ARPA funds “were designed to be used quickly during the pandemic” and the reason why the funds require the vote by the selectmen, not Town Meeting approval.
“However, given that the state of emergency is over, it is concerning that the Board of Selectmen has chosen to ignore the unanimous votes of both the Financial Planning Committee and the Appropriations Committee with regard to how ARPA funds are used,” it said.
The statement continued, “The committee is concerned that the selectmen’s actions are essentially forcing Town Meeting to authorize debt for public safety and environmental compliance projects for which there is no discretion while at the same time holding $2.62 million in available ARPA funds for some future discretionary projects that Town Meeting will not be required to vote on.”
Northborough is slated to receive $4.5 million in ARPA funds. During the Feb. 13 meeting and following public input from residents and school officials, the selectmen released $1.7 million to replace the roof of Proctor Elementary School.
The Northborough Fire Department sought $900,000 to replace a 2005 fire engine, and the Department of Public Works wanted $475,000for the installation of a tight tank system at the highway garage.
However, the selectmen did not fund these projects, with Selectman Kristen Wixted noting that some residents were interested in other projects that they hadn’t had a chance to discuss.
“My opinion is spend it judiciously on things that will help the projects that the people have been asking for, such as downtown revitalization,” said Selectman Julianne Hirsh.
In the statement, the Financial Planning Committee noted that if the projects were funded with ARPA, $1.25 million would remain.
This report echoed comments made by committee members Feb. 13.
Financial Planning Committee member Mike Hodge said these were projects the town “consistently” supported, in the queue and were vetted and discussed. Appropriation Committee member George Brenckle said the committee voted to fund these projects now and not push the projects off.
“There’s a lot of talk about use of the ARPA funds and what’s the best way,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Tim Kaelin. “To unnecessarily raise residents’ taxes while we have the money in the bank doesn’t seem to make sense. It seems the best way to use the ARPA money is to indirectly return that to the residents by not raising their taxes and using the funds to pay for things like these projects that would require the issuing of debt, which would lead to higher taxes.”
During the March 1 Appropriations Committee meeting, Kaelin noted the Financial Planning Committee’s report and asked if Appropriations could do something similar.
Split vote denies ARPA funds for fire engine, DPW tight tank