By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Select Board voted on spending of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds projects at its meeting on 12/5/22.
Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison told the board she worked with a consultant to make sure all projects comply with the regulations for the funding. ARPA funds may be used for an array of projects, including capital expenditures, such as vehicles; and infrastructure, such as water and sewer projects.
The town is set to received $4.39 million that will come through the county and the state.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is slated to get $1 million between the two funding sources for the upgrades to the system being mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The public works department is also getting $300,000 for a complete water main flush of the whole system. The town has been experiencing dirty water occasionally while it is working to upgrade the filtration system with Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester at the treatment plant in Mattapoisett.
The next two largest items are $875,000 for a new police boat, and $750,000 for a fire rescue boat. The police boat will replace the current boat with a modern vessel. It will be able to handle large vessel transports and emergency calls, something that may be needed more often as the wind industry starts using the harbor.
The Fire Department has been without a fireboat with fire suppression capability for nearly a decade. The new boat will be used for rescue, fire suppression, and medical response. Currently, Fairhaven cannot fight a fire from the waterside of a building.
The police department will also receive $266,000 for cameras and parks and beaches. The project will complete the traffic camera system that was installed this year.
Police will also receive $135,500 for a specialized emergency response vehicle ($80,000) that can reach areas not accessible by cruiser or boat, such as the bike path, beaches, etc.; a UAS Drone ($30,000); storage units ($16,000); solar speed signs ($9,500).
The Fire Department will receive another $125,000: $5,000 for security cameras at the public safety complex; and $120,000 for two electronic permanent sign boards, one at the public safety complex and one at the rec/senior center. The purpose is to give information on emergencies, and events when there is no emergency.
Town Hall will receive $18,000 for HVAC improvements.
The Recreation Center playground, however, will remain, with $200,000 earmarked for that project. The funds will be used to replace the playground with one that will be “suitable for all ages and abilities, meet all safety standards and stand the test of time,” according to the written description in the Select Board packet.
Ms. Ellison said she asked department heads to tell her what they wanted and needed that they felt they would not get from the regular Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) process. Through that process, projects are reviewed by the Capital Planning Committee and rated, with higher rated projects moving to the top of the list. Some projects have not been funded, although they have been requested for years.
SB member Bob Espindola said he thought the projects were going to come from the CIP list.
That list has gone through a review process and has checks and balances. The ARPA process does not, he noted, which is allowed, but also “places a great deal more responsibility on our Board.”
“In my opinion, absent those checks and balances, our Board needs to be especially diligent in reviewing and approving the $4.3 M available to us in these ARPA funds,” said Mr. Espindola in a memo that he read at the meeting.
He said the only project on the CIP list is the WWTP project.
“I see it as two separate entities,” said Ms. Ellison.
Mr. Espindola said that using the ARPA funds for CIP projects would free up capital planning funds for projects that keep getting pushed back. He said the new projects should then be put on the CIP list and go through the traditional checks and balances, such as Finance Committee, Community Preservation Committee, and Town meeting.
SB Vice Chair Leon Correy took issue with the whole line of questioning. He said it was “not fair to throw” it at Ms. Ellison, to say they are upset with her not following criteria they never gave her.
Mr. Espindola said he was not suggesting it was done wrong or that he was upset at all. He said he did not anticipate what would be on the list, but it “seemed logical” to him that they projects would come from the CIP. He said it was the first time he had seen the list, and so he was commenting on it.
Mr. Correy also criticized Mr. Espindola’s memo, saying there were no recommendations, just criticism.
Mr. Espindola pointed out the last paragraph which reads: “My recommendation would be that we utilize ARPA funds to pull forward Capital spending on already designated Capital Projects, with limited exception,” and asks that new projects go through the formal review CIP process.
Mr. Espindola noted that the bike path is in desperate need of repair, a project that has been getting delayed year after year.
He and Mr. Correy went back and forth a bit with the two comparing the merits of replacing the recreation center playground to repairs to the bike path.
SB Chairperson Stasia Powers said maybe there is a compromise, and some CIP projects could be included.
Ms. Ellison, however, advocated for keeping the two things separate. She said the CIP projects are part of the regular budget process, but ARPA funds are not.
She added that some projects are a “struggle” to get through Town Meeting, so ARPA funds are a good way to get those projects done.
She reiterated her recommendation that they not put the two together.
“I still strongly feel this is a very unique situation,” said Mr. Espindola, saying we don’t get $4.3 million to spend, so it should be on things that are “absolutely necessary.”
Ms. Ellison noted that the department heads asked for the projects and she trusted their judgment. She also said the consultant vetted the projects to make sure they complied with ARPA rules.
Ms. Powers said it was a “great opportunity to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. And the Capital Plan is by definition things we are working to do.”
In the end they voted on the group of projects as a whole, except for the school playground project. The board voted separately on the playground resurface project for the school department because it was unclear which school it was for. The board surmised it was for the Wood School, but made the vote separate so it could be confirmed. The project asks for $240,000 to replace the rubber surfacing system that is in poor condition.
Mr. Espindola felt he had a conflict with the project at the Wood School because he is an abutter, so he recused himself and left the room for that vote.
The board voted to approve the rest of the projects, 4–1, with Mr. Espindola voting “no.”
In another matter, the board voted to approve new signage to direct the public to new public parking spaces behind the Oxford Residences and adjacent to Livesey Park, and to add another one-way sign at the bottom of Morton Street to make it clear to those leaving that parking lot that they should not take a left.
The board also addressed an Open Meeting Law complaint regarding the executive session at the 10/17/22 meeting. The board convened in executive session “to obtain legal advice,” which is not an allowed exemption.
Ms. Powers called it a “minor oversight in language,” and said the town’s attorneys assured her that it was a “recognized reason” to go into executive session.
The board voted to allow her to work with town counsel to send a reply to Patrick Higgins, who filed the complaint.
In other business the board:
• Accepted a $20,000 anonymous donation to the animal shelter.
• Approved licenses for businesses in town, including liquor, common victualer, auto dealers, auto repair, lodging houses.
Click here to download the entire 12/8/22 issue: 12-08-22 BenoitLights
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