Store Fron Mask Signs

A storefront sign in downtown North Attleboro spells out policies on masks and social distancing last August.

NORTH ATTLEBORO — You may not be able to fill anyone’s stockings this year with what you buy with them, but the town’s plans for a “Big Red Bucks” program are moving ahead.

Town councilors last week approved a proposal from Town Manager Mike Borg to explore the program, which would use $25,000 in federal relief funds to encourage shoppers to patronize local businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Under the program, shoppers at participating businesses who spend $100 would then get a coupon for $10 to be redeemed at any of those shops. The town would then compensate the businesses.

“Our businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and we are able to help them out,” with the program, Borg said, which could start in the next fiscal year in July.

If the town used all $25,000, he added, that would translate into $275,000 spent at local businesses.

While the council’s finance committee endorsed the program, Councilor Andrea Slobogan raised a question before the full council last week. She said some business owners had come to her with concerns and questions, explaining they had not heard about the program.

“What’s the rush?” she asked.

That drew a rebuke from council member JoAnn Cathcart, who said Slobogan had overstepped her bounds by approaching the business owners.

But Borg said he wouldn’t be launching the program until he came back to the council with a “thoroughly vetted” proposal. That would include meetings with businesses interested in participating. This week, Lyle Pirnie, the town’s economic development director, said a meeting will be scheduled for the evening of Dec. 7 to discuss alternatives in detail.

Councilors also OK’d several other spending proposals, previously approved by the finance committee, including approximately $18,000 for repairs to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Barrows Park; $1.1 million for improvements to sports fields around town; and $1.25 million for repair work at Richards Memorial Library.

Those projects will be funded from the town’s free cash account or funds from other projects.

Councilors also approved $6 million from federal relief funds and other grants for repairs at the former Allen Avenue School. The goal is to relocate the town’s food pantries there along with providing space for senior citizen and veterans activities, Borg said.

A project manager will also be hired to ensure federal funds are properly spent, he said.

Tom Reilly can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews.

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