Town and Villages hold meeting seeking resident input on use of Covid funding

Parks Place in Bellows Falls is a candidate for a solar panel project, which would be build with ARPA funds. In the foreground is the vacant lot, a proposed site for a community center, to be built with the same funding. Photo by Bill Lockwood

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – The Town of Rockingham and the Villages of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River held a joint public meeting March 16 in the Lower Theater of the Rockingham Town Hall to gather input into the decisions their boards will make on the use of ARPA, or American Rescue Plan Act, funds that have been allocated to the three local administrations. They are tasked with putting them to use for the good of their communities. Athens Pizza provided pizza, salad, and drinks for the large crowd of concerned residents who filled the room.

With ARPA, the Federal Government provided $350 billion to aid local communities in their recovery from the pandemic. Of the $200 million that went to the State of Vermont, divided equally based on population among local governments, about $1.5 million went to these three local ones to use for various projects that fit into what ARPA boards will finally approve as appropriate. Priority will be given to good governance and long-term returns on investment. A local project team has been created that includes Municipal Manager Scott Pickup, Development Director Gary Fox, Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright, Saxtons River Trustee Chair Amy Howlett, Selectboard Chair Peter Golec, and Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance Executive Director Betsy Thurston.

Rachel Selsky and Alex Tranmer of Camoin Associates, hired to administer the process, facilitated this first public meeting, which they ran as a workshop to explore the projects submitted by a number of contributors. These included the Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, Take Action Rockingham Task Forces, Bellows Falls Rotary, Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce, and a number of others, besides the general public. The consultants did a survey of the participants at the meeting via cell phone and had built in a Zoom component for those who couldn’t attend in person. The facilitators had already collected 48 proposed projects, ranging from replacing the boiler in the health center and installing solar panels on the roof of Parks Place, to building a community/youth/senior center on the newly created empty lot at 66 Atkinson Street, and building out the Saxtons River Valley Trail. In a large way, the needs identified echoed those identified two years ago by the Council on Rural Development Visit that set in motion the Take Action Rockingham Task Forces.

The facilitators then broke the attendees into three groups, each with the task of discussing the list of projects, in an attempt to come to a preliminary consensus on priorities. The three groups were: Sense of Place/Historical/Arts, and included assets of the community; Economic/Opportunities/ Business; and Community Spirit/Social Equity, that included resiliency. Each group was to consider all projects. For example, the group for “Sense of Place” prioritized a community center for youth and seniors that would be built with adjacent green space with the latest environmental concepts. The three groups reported out, and that information will now be processed, vetted by the ARPA regulators, looked at for additional/supplemental funding sources, and presented at a second meeting scheduled for April 13 at 5 p.m. in the same location. The public will then be asked to further prioritize the projects for submission to a Joint Board meeting of the three administrations on May 31.

Anyone seeking more information can check “Community Projects” on the Town home page or contact Gary Fox at of call him at 802-376-5425.

Back To Top