NORTH ATTLEBORO — A projected influx of about $8 million in federal relief funding will give the town the opportunity to tackle some long-range projects, from converting the sign in front of town hall to digital to making a former school a regional food bank and senior center.
In fact, Town Manager Michael Borg told the town council at its regular meeting last week that it may be worthwhile to hire someone to make sure the funds are handled properly.
Council President Justin Pare, recalling some of the town’s fiscal troubles in the past, said that is was “pretty amazing” that the town might have enough cash that it needs help managing it.
According to Borg, funding from American Rescue Plan Act means the town has $1.5 million in hand and can apply for an additional $1.5 million next July. In addition, Borg estimates the town will be in line for some $5 million as its share of $110 million going to Bristol County from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There are constraints and rules on spending, Borg noted, but the town has until 2026 to use the money in ways that bolster economic growth.
While the strategies would have to go before the council’s finance subcommittee, Borg sought to provide “a broad outline” of the town’s priorities. Those include a “buy local” program that would provide an incentive for shoppers to patronize local stores, a possible parking garage downtown and the conversion of the sign outside town hall to a digital one that could be seen by drivers going both ways on East Washington Street.
Other projects could include the long-discussed renovation of the former Allen Avenue School to bring it up to code and provide a “health and human services site for the town.” That could house a regional food bank, senior center and veterans office, Borg said.
The town could also put some of the money to use at the LeStage property, the 58-acre farm on High Street the town purchased 20 years ago to preserve it from development. The structure on the site has suffered from the elements and, Borg said, needs to be fixed before it becomes a hazard.
Some of the funding could go to the school department as well.
Borg said modifying the town’s bylaw, looking ahead to changes at Emerald Square, where some of the property at the troubled Route 1 mall might be developed as mixed use housing, could be another use of the funding.
Borg said that it may be “in the town’s best interest” to bring on a manager to ensure the funds are being spent properly “and we are doing the right thing.”