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Area towns thoughtfully consider federal funding boon

  • Peterborough's future municipal complex off of Elm Street/Evans Road will benefit from American Rescue Act funds. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Peterborough's future municipal complex off of Elm Street/Evans Road will benefit from American Rescue Act funds. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/21/2021 4:17:02 PM

Towns across the state are discussing how to spend their chunk of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds after New Hampshire received $56,104,386.50, the first half of the total $112 million set aside for local municipalities.

Some Monadnock region towns are considering applying the monies to reduce revenue losses suffered during the pandemic, ongoing COVID-19 prevention efforts, and large public health-related infrastructure projects with the funds. Each town can receive a maximum dollar amount calculated by their 2019 population. Peterborough, one of the most populous towns in the eastern Monadnock region, has $700,164 earmarked for it, while sparsely-populated Sharon has $38,630 to apply for. Applications are currently open for the first half of total funds, with the second pool of funds becoming available next year.

The funds, part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed on March 11, are broadly intended to help local governments meet pandemic response needs and bounce back with a stronger and more equitable economy, according to a federal fact sheet.

Funds can be spent on public health, repairing COVID-19-related economic damage, recovering lost public revenue, providing premium pay for essential workers, and investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, according to the fact sheet. Longer-term infrastructure projects are under consideration in many towns rather than the kinds of emergency aid programs and adaptations that CARES Act funding covered as a result of the pandemic.

“Our sense is that there’s lots of places to go with the funding,” Greenfield Town Administrator Aaron Patt said. Although no decisions have yet been made, the town is looking into reducing the shared materials and workspaces in the municipal office to safeguard against COVID-19 or a similar outbreak in the future, he said. They’re also looking to see if the funds can apply to reduce the cost of municipal broadband internet, which the town voted to pursue in May. Greenfield is scheduled to formally accept the first half of funds they applied for at a public hearing on Aug. 5, he said.

Francestown formally accepted their share of funds on Monday, July 12, but the Select Board is yet to work out specifically what they’ll spend them on, Town Administrator Jamie Pike said. “Fortunately, time is on our hands. We have until 2024 to spend the money,” he said. Discussions are still in the early phases and the Select Board will take the issue back up “in the near future,” Pike said, but culvert projects and cybersecurity upgrades are two items under consideration.

Wilton staff are working to determine which infrastructure projects might be eligible under their town allocation, Deputy Town Administrator Janice Pack said. Meanwhile, the town’s Economic Development Team and Conservation Commission are seeking ARP funds from Hillsborough County, to which the act allocated $80 million. Although they submitted 25 project applications, the Select Board lent their support to two conservation projects that may have a good shot at funding, Economic Development Team Chair and Conservation Commissioner Jennifer Beck said. “Some people think about [conservation and economic development] as at odds,” she said. “In Wilton, they’re very much in sync.”

One project seeks to untangle the complicated situation at the former Abbott Family Trust downtown riverfront property, Beck said, which would be a great site for an open-air concert pavilion once the town works out who owns it, and whether there is still hazardous material on site. It’s well-documented that several steel barrels of sodium cyanide, a hazardous material used in manufacturing, were encased in concrete and buried on site long ago, Beck said. However, there hasn’t been any evidence of chemical leaks into the river for a long time, and there’s a possibility that the chemicals have broken down to an inert state, she said. Further testing would reveal the answer, and potentially preempt a much costlier excavation and removal, she said. The site’s potential for pollution is important information to have before the town would ever attempt to acquire the property, the ownership of which has been unclear for many years, as the Abbott Family Trust dissolved and all known trustees have since died, Beck said.

The Wilton Conservation Commission is also seeking county ARP funds to repair the redlisted earthen dam that forms Frog Pond, Beck said. The pond supports wetlands including the endangered Blanding’s turtle, and there are many other improvements that could better facilitate public access for outdoor recreation on site, she said. The glut of visitors to public lands during the pandemic underscored their importance to health and well-being, Beck said. “Never before was it so proven that these open spaces are valued by our residents,” she said.

In Peterborough, the preliminary plan is to direct the funds to the Municipal Campus project off of Elm Street, Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said. The site will see some major renovations and expansions in the coming years related to constructing a new fire and police station, and renovating the Public Works Garage and Community Center, as previously reported. Peterborough residents should “stay tuned” for more information in the very near future, MacStay said.

Jaffrey is jumping on the opportunity to revamp an old sewer line on Stratton Road, Town Manager Jon Frederick said. “We’ve known that this line is something that’s needed to be addressed,” Frederick said, but the town hadn’t had a way to finance it prior to the ARP fund announcement. The town recently completed a water project on the road, and has been waiting to fund and complete the sewer project before they close it up and start on the road’s sidewalk plan, plus some other projects that have been on hold, he said.

Lyndeborough’s application for funds is underway, Town Administrator Russ Boland said. One option under consideration is using the funds to expand broadband internet, he said, as between 30 and 40 percent of Lyndeborough residents currently have no high-speed access. The town is also looking into recovering lost revenue from last year, although they’re still yet to determine exactly how much the town potentially lost, Boland said, from relied-upon revenue streams such as car registrations, the state Meals and Rooms Tax, and other sources. “We encourage public comment” on how to spend the funds, he said.

Antrim has applied for the funds but have no plans as of yet on how to spend them, Town Administrator Donna Hanson said. Dublin, Mason, and Sharon are yet to discuss the funds, representatives said. Representatives from  Bennington, Greenville, New Ipswich, and Rindge didn’t return requests for comment by press time.

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