BARRE TOWN — The Select Board’s first attempt at receiving public input for the use of coronavirus relief funds didn’t generate much of a response.
At the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, officials discussed the $2.3 million the town has been awarded from the American Rescue Plan Act. The board is actively soliciting input on how the funds should be used and had set aside a portion of Tuesday’s meeting for public feedback.
Though local officials are still waiting on “soon” to arrive from the federal government with all the finalized details for how the money can be used, they did have some general guidelines. The money can’t be used for infrastructure outside of water, sewer and broadband or for lowering property taxes or to create a “rainy-day fund.”
All of the money must be obligated by the end of 2024, meaning contracts signed for projects, and spent by the end of 2026.
Board members had come up with a list of possible projects at a meeting earlier this month to give residents an idea of what they are looking for. The list mainly focused on water and sewer lines as well as stormwater projects and a possible communications tower to be built to increase radio-signal quality in certain parts of town. Officials have said first responders have reported there are dead spots in the area that don’t have any radio reception.
Board members have said they want the projects they pick to benefit everyone in town, not just certain parts or certain groups.
The board heard from one resident by email and another by phone.
Board Chair Paul White didn’t identify the resident, but he said the town had received an email suggesting some of the money be spent on upgrading or reconditioning the paved swales that carry stormwater away from collection areas. White said the resident reported there is such a swale in front of his house that hasn’t been improved in at least 30 years and the pavement has deteriorated.
White said the town would add this idea to the list, noting the town isn’t close to making any decisions on how the money is spent.
He said he’s had a couple of conversations with another resident who wants to improve some town culverts to allow for trout migration.
“I honestly don’t know whether or not that would be an allowable use of those funds ... since it’s not drinking water, it’s not stormwater, it’s not wastewater, it’s just water,” White said.
Town Manager Carl Rogers said he removed one project from the town’s list, that being completing a water loop from the Wilson Industrial Park to Bolster Road. Rogers said he’s been “led to believe” the town will get funding for that project from another source.
Resident Ginger Cloud suggested extending the sidewalk from where it ends in Barre City on Route 14 to the Hannaford Supermarket in town. Cloud said people walk along that section of Route 14, some pushing baby carriages, at different times of day to go to the market.
“The access seems to be so limited for safe passage from Barre City to the Barre Town Hannaford’s,” she said.
She noted people are currently staying in the Hollow Inn on Route 14 under the state’s voucher program for those dealing with the state’s housing crisis. Cloud said that’s a vulnerable population.
White said that was an interesting suggestion and not something brought up previously. He noted the town will likely receive more money for infrastructure projects after the recent passage of the infrastructure bill in Congress, so if the sidewalk doesn’t make the cut this time around it might next time.
Board member Justin Bolduc said that project might be difficult because the state is planning to completely rebuild the intersection of Route 14 and Bridge Street and Sterling Hill Road. Bolduc said without knowing exactly what the state’s timeline is, the town might not be able to install the sidewalk by 2026.
White agreed, saying the town would need to coordinate with the state.
“The last thing we would want to do is put in a sidewalk and have to rip it up or rebuild the road and have to rip it up,” he said.
White said the town will continue to solicit public input for the funds and residents can reach out to board members with their ideas.