BRANDON — The Select Board made several decisions about spending money at Monday’s board meeting, laying out the schedule for its public budgeting workshops as well as giving the town manager directions to look into some American Rescue Plan Act projects.
The town is slated to receive a total of $1,116,488 in ARPA funding. While some questions about how funds can be spent remain, generally anything related to the pandemic, water infrastructure or broadband improvement qualifies.
Select Board member Tracy Wyman moved to allow Town Manager Dave Atherton to explore costs associated with fixing the pump station on Newton Road, hooking the town garage up to the town sewer system, upgrading waterlines on Union Street and merging Fire District #2 into Fire District #1.
Select Board Chair Seth Hopkins said the way ARPA dispersal seems to be working is that the town receives the funds and becomes the entity to spend or grant money to projects within the town.
The board has discussed ARPA funds for a few months now. Most on the board appear to be in favor of using it to shore up existing infrastructure rather than new developments.
Select Board member Tim Guiles has advocated for it to help further a town-owned solar project. He said that will create a stream of funds that could be used to repair, upgrade, or build whatever the town needs.
Town Manager Dave Atherton said he understands the logic behind Guiles’ thinking, but feels funds need to go into water sooner rather than later.
“My dilemma here is it’s sort of my watch right now for overseeing these types of projects and we all know, pretty much everyone in this room has heard, that the wastewater treatment plant has been neglected through the years and money was not put into it,” he said. “We have this aging infrastructure and when it breaks the state then comes down and says, well now we’re going to fine you. We’ve been through that once, I don’t want to see that happen again.”
He was referring to an incident in 2018 where a sewer line broke, discharging 3 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Neshobe River. The Agency of Natural Resources wanted to fine the town over $30,000 for allegedly not reporting the problem sooner than it did, but after some talk, lowered the penalty to $12,000.
“The idea is that the solar would produce money we could use to let us do more projects going forward,” said Guiles. “That’s always been the idea that it would actually create a cash flow for us to do future projects.”
Wyman was skeptical about how much the solar project would bring in, adding that the town still needs to get some sense of how much these projects will cost before this debate can continue much further.
Atherton said he believes the scoping study for the Newton Road pump station will run about $11,000. He said these studies will have to be done at some point, ARPA funds or not. He noted that with the Newton Road project, the pump station has been failing often over the past several years.
Earlier in the meeting, the board chose the dates for the four budget workshops it typically holds each year.
The meetings will take place on Nov. 15, Nov. 29, Dec. 6, and Dec. 20. These are for the town budget that will go before voters in March after the Select Board approves it. All are at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.
“These have been pretty lightly attended,” said Hopkins. “I’d like to have some more folks participate. We can offer to have anybody who’s interested send a short note to the town manager if they want.”
He said the public is also welcome to attend, as these are open meetings.