The Halifax Board of Selectmen met on September 17 to discuss possible uses of the town’s allotment of $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Town Accountant Sandra Nolan was also present for the discussion. Selectmen Chair Gordon Andrews said, “one use of the ARPA funds is bonuses for employees; I was going to suggest that we do a $1,500 bonus this year and next year.” Andrews said that for the unions, including fire, police, and highway, part-time employees’ bonuses would be pro-rated based on the number of hours worked.
Andrews said he wanted to discuss “everyone else” noting “but I don’t know that I have a solution for that today.” Selectman Troy Garron said, “I think we need to reward the staff for what they have done through the pandemic – the loyalty they have shown to the town.” The Selectmen decided that all town employees, including full-time elected employees, would receive $1,500 if full-time and a pro-rated bonus if part-time.
Andrews asked how to handle the school employees saying that the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds were available for their use. Selectman Ashley DiSesa said they would need to research whether the School Committee plans to allot funds for bonuses for school employees before proceeding with using ARPA funds for that purpose. She noted she did not want to hold up bonuses for other town employees in the meanwhile. The Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the bonuses for all but the school employees.
The Selectmen then turned their attention to what is referred to as “the affected communities.” “Because of Covid restrictions, you have restrictions at the elementary school for masking and you have issues with humidity and heat there… I have a motion to designate $35,000 for engineering consulting for the complete scope of work to upgrade, renovate the Halifax Elementary School HVAC system and building management system.” Garron clarified that work had already been done on some of those systems but Andrews said the issue needing fixing is related to heat and humidity. “I can say after all of us sitting in the gym and not being able to breathe and everybody going outside to try and breathe with the masks on, I think we need to do something,” Andrews explained. The Board voted unanimously to approve the cost for the consulting/engineering fee.
Andrews said he was going to make a request to the Director of Facilities and Maintenance for an estimate for either engineering work or the cost of the project for reviewing/fixing the HVAC system at the fire station. The Selectmen voted unanimously to approve this motion.
The Selectmen next discussed building a senior center with ARPA funding. “Because of Covid-19, the seniors in our community have definitely been affected – they’ve been isolated and I will be pushing to use some of the ARPA funds to provide a place… I don’t know whether we could cover the whole cost of the senior center within the ARPA funds but I think we can use a portion of those funds; they are an affected community,” Andrews said. Garron said, “I personally believe that the seniors have been discarded over getting things for the younger kids… you’ve got to remember the senior citizens are the ones that made this history of the town – made it what it is today.” The Selectmen agreed to look into the cost of a new senior center.
DiSesa suggested potentially allocating some of the funds to deal with infrastructure and, in particular, water. The quality of the water in town was a topic of discussion during recent Selectmen meetings with residents complaining of brown water amongst other things. Andrews said he was in agreement. Andrews noted that the funds weren’t eligible to be used for road construction.