Second public meeting for Covid funds held in Bellows Falls

Attendees of the meeting place dots on the project list to indicate ARPA funding priority. Photo taken by Bill Lockwood

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On April 13, the Town of Rockingham and the Villages of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River held their second public meeting in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Town Hall, facilitated by Camoin Consultants. It was another step in determining the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds allotted by the Federal government to these three local administrations. Nationwide, the plan granted $353 billion to states and local governments to reverse the negative impacts of the Covid pandemic. Based on population, $1.5 billion came to Vermont, which has been divided to grant local communities roughly $300 per resident. That works out to about $1.4 million for these three communities. The three local administrations must decide, within the guidelines of the act, what to spend the money on. This process, which includes these public meetings, is on how they have elected to proceed. Marty Gallagher, Rockingham Health Center Director and participant at the meeting, said, “I’m proud they put it into a public process. Not every town did.”

The first meeting was held in the same location on March 16 of this year. A project team was formed, which consists of Municipal Manager Scott Pickup, Development Director Gary Fox, Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright, Saxton’s River Trustee Chair Amy Howlett, Select Board Chair Peter Golec, and BFDDA Director Betsy Thurston. 48 projects have been proposed from various groups, and one of them a needs assessment from a Council on Rural Development visit two years ago. Groups were formed and discussion ensued. The results were then processed by the consultants and vetted by ARPA regulators. Additional projects were proposed. Wright noted, “Great participation. We now have over 55 projects and are moving things forward from the 2019 visit now that we have money involved.” She also noted, “We have till 2026 to see whatever other [matching funding] we can get for these projects.”

For this second meeting, 58 projects were up for consideration and prioritization. These projects run the gamut from “very expensive” to “not so expensive,” such as relocating the SEVCA facility in an Opportunity Zone, replacing old or out of compliance sewer lines, Island Street revitalization, solar panels at the gravel pit, renovations to Town Hall, to developing Walkable Rockingham. Again, a similar crowd of interested and invested residents filled the room. In a similar process as used by the Council on Rural Development, the consultants had participants discuss in groups and then rank by priority, placing colored dots on charts listing the projects that had been posted on the walls.

The full group reassembled for a report out and summary. Various iterations of a community and cultural center were very popular as were various solar and sustainability projects. The Vilas Bridge restoration ranked high as well. Rachel Selsky and Alex Tranmer, the consultants, will now compile the results of the discussion and interpret the colored dots placed on the charts listing the projects. They will report it to a joint session of the three Boards on May 31. Anyone seeking more information can check “Community Projects” on the Town home page or contact Gary Fox at development@rockbf.org or call him at 802-376-5425.

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