NORTHBOROUGH – A request from the Northborough Free Library for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to reprint the Northborough Community Resource Guide and hire a consultant was approved by the Select Board 4-1 on Oct. 23.
Select Board Chair Mitch Cohen and members Laura Ziton, Kristen Wixted and Julianne Hirsh voted in favor while member Lisa Maselli voted against the two requests.
What was requested
Library Director Jenn Bruneau first appeared before the Select Board in September requesting $27,000 in ARPA funds.
The first request was for $7,000 for a limited reprinting of the Northborough Community Resource Guide to account for updates like the creation of the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. The library was also interested in creating magnets to direct people to an online version of the guide that would be regularly updated.
The second request was for $20,000 for a consultant with a health and wellness background and knowledge of library services who would conduct a needs assessment, do research and deliver a strategic plan for the library focusing on health and wellness initiatives.
The board voted on the two requests separately after posing several questions about the requests.
Hirsh voiced support for getting the report of a building assessment prior to allocating ARPA funds to a project like the request to reprint the guide. She said there was a “long list” of requests for ARPA funds, and she was concerned the board was taking the projects little by little.
However, Hirsh said she felt good about the request, noting community interest in funding mental health initiatives with the ARPA funds.
Ziton noted overlap between the library and Northborough Youth and Family Services and asked if there would be a combination of efforts.
Among her questions and comments in regards to the consultant, Maselli noted that Northborough Youth and Family Services isn’t currently operating. She asked if it would make more sense to hire a social worker and community outreach coordinator whose job description could “include what the consultant would do once.” The coordinator could also have office hours, she said.
“I think that we’re forgetting that youth and family services is the one who really is supposed to be conducting this,” Maselli said.
The town, she said, “constantly wants to spend money on consultants.”
“I don’t feel that it’s well spent in this case. If this was a burning need, then that should have come out of the Be Well [Northborough] money of $100,000. … I’m not confident that we should be spending that money for another consultant,” Maselli said.
Be Well Northborough was a health and wellness initiative led by town staff that was funded by ARPA in early 2022.
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According to Cohen, as of late August, there was about $26,000 of the ARPA allocation of $100,000 for Be Well Northborough. There were four earmarks for the funds, including the summer kickoff event in 2024 and Recreation Department and senior center programs.
While some Select Board members asked questions about the requests, other board members said they were ready to vote on the requests that evening.
“I’m concerned about bringing these back over and over and over again and what that does to staff for relatively small dollar items,” Cohen said during the conversation about the guide. “My preference is make a decision on it. If the board isn’t ready to, the board isn’t ready to. If you have an objection, state that.”
Wixted said she trusted Bruneau, who she said wouldn’t try to spend money frivolously.
“That’s how we’re coming across — like we really don’t trust you,” she said.
Maselli said it wasn’t that she didn’t have a lack of trust. She said she didn’t think the town needed to spend the money.
“It’s the fact we’re fiduciary responsible people here — that’s our job. A hundred thousand dollars was given to the Be Well program that was used in ways I didn’t think was overly responsible in some cases,” she said.
Maselli said the town was looking to the Select Board to make good decisions.
“It’s not a case of not knowing what we’re doing; it’s a case of trying to be kind enough and compromising enough to say that maybe we do need some more information as to the importance of it,” Maselli said.