BERLIN — When it comes to money the town has started to receive under the American Rescue Plan, the Select Board is thinking culverts not cops.
It’s not that the board doesn’t appreciate the hard work of its police department during the pandemic. However, when it comes to an unprecedented infusion of federal funding that will be arrive in multiple six-figure installments during the next year, paying more for work that’s already already paid for is low on the list of priorities.
Board members agreed projects that are either in the works, lingering on a to-do list due to lack of funding or yet to be added because a foreseeable need isn’t yet a looming emergency, would be more prudent investment for the federal funds than paying police extra for pandemic-related overtime worked.
Town Administrator Vince Conti pitched the idea that mimics bonuses that were paid to police officers and first responders in some other central Vermont community with earlier funding associated with the COVID-19 crisis.
Conti said the rules for the rescue plan money would allow the board to pay a bonus of up to $13 an hour for overtime associated with the pandemic.
Conti told the board Berlin officers logged more than 800 hours of overtime responding to complaints at the Hilltop Inn, which was used to house dozens of homeless residents for more than a year.
Selectman John Quinn said that would be a poor use of even a small portion of what is expected to be nearly $1 million in “one-time” money.
“I do not think we ought to be paying wages with this money,” he said. “I think that would be money out the door and a wasted opportunity.”
The town has already received its first $145,568 installment, another larger one is on the way and two more will arrive next year.
Quinn said the board should think strategically about how to use what is expected to be more than $900,000 in revenue.
Board members briefly wondered whether the money might be used to reduce the $1.4 million in long-term debt that is being incurred as part of the voter-approved replacement of a failed culvert on Fisher Road.
While dodging that debt initially sounded attractive, Selectman Brad Towne noted the project has been approved, the financing is in place and the interest rate — less than 2% — was attractive given current economic trends
“If inflation keeps going the way it’s going that’s going to be cheap money,” he said of the funds the board has agreed to borrow from the Vermont Infrastructure Bank to finance the Fisher Road project.
While replacing the huge culvert that funnels Pond Brook under Fisher Road is scheduled to be completed by winter, the town has fished for funding to replace another deteriorating culvert on Richardson Road and has expressed concern about the eventual need to replace two large culverts under Crosstown Road.
The Crosstown Road culverts were still structurally sound when they were inspected last year, but Towne wondered whether now might be the time to extend their life by installing aluminum sleeves. The Fisher Road culvert was too far gone for that cost-effective option to be considered and the alternative will require the installation of a bridge-like arch. The pre-cast concrete components of that structure have been ordered and the work is expected to be completed later this year.
Conti said some thought could be given to replacing the obsolete subsurface pump station on Barre-Montpelier Road. The Public Works Board recently discussed scheduling a March bond vote to replace the pump station that is a critical piece of the town’s wastewater infrastructure.
Board members didn’t rule the idea out, but Towne noted the replacement cost of the pump station would typically fall to the town’s sewer customers.
Conti said he’d develop a list and ballpark cost estimates for infrastructure projects that are on the horizon for the board to consider and Chair Justin Lawrence said the board should also think about investing in digitizing land records.