by Ray Small
HARDWICK – Last Thursday, the Hardwick Select Board held the first of two public hearings on spending options for federal funds made available to the town through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The meeting started with board chair Eric Remick running through a list of current projects in need of funding. Remick noted that costs for many of the projects were higher than initially projected and that several projects needed supplemental funding. The list included the wastewater treatment plant, the Jeudevine Library expansion, the Yellow Barn project, the swinging bridge, community broadband expansion, the Memorial Building roof renovation, and repairs to the Town House.
Jodi Lew-Smith, chairperson of the board of directors of the Jeudevine Memorial Library, was the first resident speaker at the meeting. Lew-Smith said the library has been working on the expansion for a number of years and that an earlier bid came in well over budget. The project will be going out to bid again with new bids also expected to be over budget. Lew-Smith said future funding may be available through the Vermont Department of Libraries but a decision has been delayed. She added that the library is looking to secure contingency funding while the board awaits a decision on state funding.
“We’re looking to put in place bridge funding to be able to sign a contract and then, hopefully, not need those dollars if that [state] library funding comes through,” she said.
Hardwick resident Paul Fixx spoke next, asking about the board’s process for collecting, evaluating, pricing, and prioritizing the projects that qualified for ARPA funds. “This is a real windfall for the Town of Hardwick, and I think it’s really critical that we have some objective criteria to evaluate this process,” Remick said. He noted that “this meeting and the next meeting are soliciting public input. I strongly suggest that anybody who’s interested who’s not here tonight come to our next meeting, which is the 5th of May.”
Another resident asked about the timeline for spending the ARPA funds. Remick replied, “I think it’s allocated in about a year and then, I think, we have another two years to spend it, but don’t quote me on that.” [Editor’s note: sorry, Eric.]
East Hardwick resident Gary Michaels, speaking as a board member of the Craftsbury Community Care Center (4Cs), asked if the board was considering using some of the ARPA funds for non-profit organizations.
“4Cs are not in Hardwick, but Hardwickians represent the majority of our residents,” Michaels said. “We, like everybody else have lots of projects, some of which relate specifically to improved health aspects of the facility.”
Remick said he was unsure if non-profits were eligible but would look into the matter. Michaels added it was his understanding that the bill allowed for specific types of projects or that funds could be “put directly in the general fund, claiming loss of revenue, in which case it can be used for anything.”
The discussion then briefly turned to the issue of improving heating in the Memorial Building so it could be better utilized in the winter.
Paul Fixx then spoke again, stating, “I think there’s a real question about taking money designed to benefit the entire town and putting towards a sewer plant which directly benefits those people on the water and sewer system that have a separate means of funding themselves.”
Remick replied that while Fixx had a “valid point,” it was “important to recognize that the sewer system really does benefit the whole town because without it we wouldn’t have a lot of the businesses we have in town.” Several select board members agreed, emphasizing the value of the system to the town.
Jodi Lew-Smith asked about availability of funds for the sewer system project from the federal infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). Remick replied that the select board was looking to include funding from the bill but that spending guidelines were “not well defined yet.”
The hearing concluded with a recap of the swinging bridge renovation, one of the projects on the list.