The source of the additional funds is the town’s reservoir of grants from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which had been designated for major water and sewer upgrades. Funding of projects under ARPA does not require town meeting approval.
Thursday’s action appears to clear the way for the Board of the Utah System of Higher Education to sign off on the transaction. The property is being divested by Utah State University, which operated a research facility there for decades. The Utah board had set a deadline of today to commit to the higher price.
Annual Town Meeting in March approved a negotiated price of $1.55 million, but the Utah board later determined that it was in their taxpayers’ interest to sell at the higher price, which emanated from an April 29 counter offer by Carol Amick and William Moonan. They also have led a legal challenge to the procurement process for the site.
The Select Board convened at 1:30 p.m., moved immediately into executive session to discuss strategy related to land acquisition, and returned to open session in a little more than a half-hour. Besides the five board members, Nina Pickering-Cook from the town counsel’s office was on the screen.
In a public statement after the executive session ended, Select Board chair Emily Mitchell reviewed the recent history of the issue, noting that Amick and Moonan, “independently and without informing the town or the public,” submitted the higher counter offer. “Unfortunately,” she said, the Utah System of Higher Education then requested that the town match it to secure the property.
ARPA funds were allocated primarily to relieve extraordinary government expenses connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. The original law also allowed expenditures for three categories of local infrastructure: water, sewer, and broadband.
After the meeting, when asked how the board’s vote reconciles with those limits, Mitchell said in an email that the permitted uses have recently been expanded, and that the town’s auditors “are comfortable with this use of ARPA funds.”
Mitchell noted at the meeting that the town’s ARPA plan, “approved by the Select Board on July 12, 2021, supports Town/School Covid-19 recovery efforts, and expansion of water/sewer infrastructure on Middlesex Turnpike.” She said diverting $150,000 for the land purchase “will reduce the funding available for the water/sewer infrastructure expansion project.”
“We look forward to the next steps on this important project, including hiring an owner’s project manager and architect, establishing the building committee as approved by Town Meeting, and working with the Historic District Commission, neighbors, and other stakeholders to build the fire station our community so desperately needs and deserves” the chair said
She added, “We are grateful for the outpouring of support and offers of financial assistance we have received in the last week from all corners of the community.”
Select Board member Margot Fleischman moved to approve increasing the purchase price to $1,700,000 and authorizing the use of the federal funds. The board was unanimous in favor. There was no opportunity for public comment or questions; the open session took about five minutes.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763