Above: The Town Council meeting Tuesday, 2/22/22, in person for the first time since fall.
Town Manager Andy Nota’s first go around with what to do with $3.92 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars was to lean into bricks and mortar. The town was in need of a lot of that kind of money so it made sense. But in this second go around – one the Town Council approved – the plan for ARP funds included pretty much every town department and even some money to help EG students with learning loss.
“I think we felt it was important, as a staff, that the plan we put forward was representative of the entire community and not just the bricks and mortar,” said Nota after the meeting Tuesday where he outlined the revised plan and the Town Council voted to approve it.
The biggest difference between Nota’s first plan and this second one was the exclusion of $1 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades. That came about after discussion with the Town Council raised the issue that since not all the town was served by the sewers perhaps sewer users alone should shoulder sewer costs.
That left money for spending on mental health programs and after school and summer learning programs, as well as money for local businesses still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
“When you look at the whole American Rescue Plan regulation, it’s broad. It touches almost every part of local government,” said Nota.
There are four criteria in terms of how this COVID-19 relief money can be spent:
- Direct response to COVID-19;
- Boost wages to essential workers as a result of the pandemic;
- Address revenue reductions caused by the pandemic;
- Necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
“We’re trying to make a statement,” he said. “We’re trying to put our best foot forward in the plan and draw attention to other things in the community that need to be addressed. Challenges that we’re facing. It’s not just deteriorating buildings, or replacing vehicles, or electronics. The community’s about the people. We thought it was better to make it have a presence in the plan and draw attention to it.”
In particular, Nota commented on EG’s longstanding commitment to mental health and drug and alcohol issues through Bob Houghtaling.
“A lot of communities I’ve been in spend very little time on mental health and human services. A lot of time it’s outside agencies that do that work. Very seldom have I seen a town … have this relationship where we have leadership within our own professional staff and to structure it for long-term sustainability. They feel and we feel as a staff that it’s critically important as a community, more so than just cars and fields and playgrounds, things we can just touch.”
Now that the Town Council has approved Nota’s plan, it gets submitted as the town’s application to the U.S. Treasury. The ARP funds need to be allocated by 2024.
Here is the breakdown of projects and costs (you can find the entire document, which includes a lot more information, HERE):
- Upgrade ventilation at town buildings – $1.8 million (plus $100,000 from the town)
The town would be able to modernize buildings including Town Hall, both fire stations, the police department, the public works/school department and Swift Community Center.
- Expand EGFD Station 2 – $500,000
This would fund expanding the Frenchtown Road station to accommodate two additional bays. The immediate result would allow for all town fire apparatus to be housed indoors.
- New dispatch systems for police and fire – $500,000
The fire and police dispatch systems are decades old. This would give both departments upgraded systems to be able to maintain or improve response times.
- Park pavilions/shelters – $150,000 ($225,000 if a recreation grant comes through)
This would provide covered spaces at two (potentially three) locations – Academy, Eldredge and EGHS – that could be used both for recreational purposes and as outdoor classrooms. Sides could extend the use during the spring and fall seasons.
- Transfer Station Relocation Project / remediation – $150,000 ($100,000 from ARP)
The Town of East Greenwich has long sought to relocate or eliminate the transfer station, especially since EG’s curbside service will collect just about everything we throw out. But the transfer station has remained popular with at least some residents. The town is again broaching the topic of moving (or eliminating) it. This project will be affected by the outcome of the waterfront study currently underway. Because the outcome is uncertain, Nota said he was only seeking money to remediate the waterfront location. – $100,000 (plus $50,000 from the town)
- Removal of old and installation of new fuel tanks – $650,000
Right now, town vehicles gas up at tanks located underground at the wastewater treatment plant on Crompton Avenue. This money would call for the removal of those tanks – which pose an environmental threat to Greenwich Cove and are difficult to monitor – and the installation of new above-ground, double-lined, bullet-proof gas tanks to be located at Bear Swamp off Frenchtown Road.
- Main Street Reconstruction Design – $300,000
Main Street, a state road, is due for repaving and the state Dept. of Transportation has it on its Transportation Infrastructure Project (TIP) list, but East Greenwich is handling the design of the project – which could potentially include changes to the sidewalks and/or the way parking is handled on the street (to be determined following a downtown parking study set to happen this summer). This provides the funding for that design work.
- IT infrastructure upgrades – $428,460 (plus $271,000 from the town)
This includes lots of stuff, like invisible network switches and routers as well as camera surveillance and an upgrade of the public broadcast system. It also includes public wifi for Main Street, a notoriously poor cell phone reception area.
- Sidewalks ($400,000)
This would provide safer walking routes to schools. Among the locations, the town’s list includes parts of CindyAnn Drive, Frenchtown Road, Westwood Drive, Kenyon Avenue, Chestnut Drive, Grandview Drive, Sycamore Drive and Wanton Shippee, and Cliff Street.
- Mental Health ($50,000)
This money would be added to the town’s already existing mental health program in acknowledgement of the dramatic increase in mental health issues faced by both children and adults following the pandemic. Because of longstanding programs run by Bob Houghtaling, East Greenwich is a rare municipality to be able to relatively easily expand services rather than outsource them.
- Learning Loss Supports ($50,000)
This money is targeted to school-age children who have fallen behind during the past two years due to COVID-19 related disruptions and may be struggling with educational and social-and -emotional issues.
- Local Business Supports ($50,000)
Many local businesses were hard hit by the pandemic. This money would continue to help those in and out of the EG Chamber of Commerce to improve resiliency.
The notion that “since not all the town was served by the sewers perhaps sewer users alone should shoulder sewer costs” is as ludicrous as someone arguing that Fire Station 2 should only be funded by those who live west of route 2. This Balkanization thinking is detrimental to the town as a whole and unfair to those who were obliged to connect to the sewer network. The requirement to provide sewers includes the benefit of a cleaner Greenwich Cove and the entire bay. This is not a benefit limited to any one geographic part of town, it benefits the entire community including those on the “western front” (to stay with the Balkan reference) . A sweet heart deal was already afforded to the politically connected Cedar Rock Meadows development which exempted the residents of that enclave off of Howland Road from having to connect to the sewer line which passes their development and thereby not share the same burden of their less well off neighbors in Cedar Heights and beyond. Mark Schwager voted in favor of this deal to those residing in this well-heeled development and it seems like the trend to burden those who were forced to share the costs of a sewer network who reside in the older developments of town, many of whom can least afford this financial responsibility.
I would hope that the Main Street Reconstruction program will also include funds to clean up Main Street. I have lived here many years, and I have never seen Main Street as filthy as it is right now. Main Street is littered with discarded face masks and garbage. It is quite sad to see.
Try driving down busy Rector St between Division st and Church on a rainy day.Poor drainage and a sinking st causing dangerous flooding conditions on this heavily traveled cut thru road. A sinking man hole cover has become raised as the road is sinking around it. Just ask the Town snowplow driver as his plow rams into this raised cover at every North to South pass. During heavy rain the water crosses rector West to East rather Then North to South creating a dangerous situation . This needs to be addressed before their is a serious accident